Former Commissioner Frost to plead guilty on fraud charge

Ellen Frost
AS CHARGED: Former Buncombe County Commissioner Ellen Frost acknowledges that she conspired with former County Manager Wanda Greene to illegally misdirect roughly $575,000 of county money between July 2014 and November 2017. File photo by Max Cooper

Just over a year after being charged with 11 federal crimes, former Buncombe County Commissioner Ellen Frost is preparing to plead guilty to one of them. According to a factual basis document filed on July 30 with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Frost will likely admit to one count of conspiracy to commit federal program fraud, for which the maximum prison term is five years.

As outlined in the factual basis, Frost acknowledges that she conspired with former County Manager Wanda Greene to illegally misdirect roughly $575,000 of county money between July 2014 and November 2017. The funds, taken from Buncombe’s economic development incentive program without the knowledge or approval of other commissioners, were used to sponsor horse shows and purchase advertising in equestrian publications on behalf of the Asheville Regional Airport. Frost was at the time a horse owner who participated in equestrian activities.

Although the document notes that Lew Bleiweis, executive director of the Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority, “had specific knowledge of the county funding,” it says that neither he nor other members of the airport board knew that the funds had been obtained illegally. The Board of Commissioners did not learn about the payments until August 2016 reporting by the Citizen Times uncovered them; the newspaper did not at that time identify the payments as illegal.

Frost’s actual plea agreement was not available through the federal court system; she is set to appear in court on Monday, Aug. 17. However, the factual basis includes several points suggesting that she will ask for considerable clemency in sentencing.

The document explains that Frost was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in February and was more recently diagnosed with mild neurocognitive disorder, both of which increase her susceptibility to severe symptoms of COVID-19. It also notes that two of Greene’s co-conspirators in other crimes, former Assistant County Manager Jon Creighton and former county contractor Joseph Wiseman Jr., had been released to home confinement due to the coronavirus.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the former news editor of Mountain Xpress. His work has also appeared in Sierra, The Guardian, and Civil Eats, among other national and regional publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.