Prison for all in Buncombe corruption scheme

Federal courthouse in Asheville
HALL OF JUSTICE: Presiding over the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Judge Robert Conrad sentenced Wanda Greene and others involved in the ongoing Buncombe County corruption scandal to fines and federal prison time. Photo by David Floyd

Buncombe County resident Dave Heim is a betting man. Soon before Wanda Greene was scheduled to be sentenced on a slew of federal corruption charges, Heim said, he gathered with fellow veterans at a local Waffle House to wager how long the former Buncombe County manager would spend in prison.

Heim’s own estimate was conservative, as he shared with Xpress on the limestone steps of the federal courthouse prior to the sentencing hearing. “I think the fix is in,” he said, projecting that Greene would be given only four years of a maximum 33-year sentence for federal program fraud, making a false tax return and receiving kickbacks.

Thanks to the Aug. 28 decision of U.S. District Judge Robert Conrad, Heim is out $2. Calling Greene’s activities a “tragic waste on a personal level” with “horrific consequences for the county of Buncombe,” Conrad sentenced her to seven years in federal prison and ordered her to pay a $100,000 fine.

Conrad described Greene as “an architect of this culture of corruption” in Buncombe County and said she exhibited “flagrant disrespect for the rules” as he proclaimed the sentence. From over $58,000 of personal purchases on county credit cards beginning in 2007 to the 2017 purchase of $2.3 million in life insurance policies using money earmarked for settlements of civil rights lawsuits, he said her behavior had escalated “out of control” during her time as the county’s top unelected official.

Four for four

Wanda Greene
SHAKY FOUNDATION: U.S. District Judge Robert Conrad called former County Manager Wanda Greene “an architect of this culture of corruption” as he sentenced her to seven years in federal prison and a $100,000 fine. Photo by Max Cooper

Four others indicted for illegal activities involving Greene — her son and former county Business Intelligence Manager Michael Greene, former County Manager Mandy Stone, former Assistant County Manager Jon Creighton and former county contractor Joseph Wiseman, Jr. — all left Conrad’s courtroom with active prison time, a year of supervised release and a financial penalty. “Maybe we’ll have to decide who goes where,” Conrad joked, after all of the convicted felons had requested prison assignments close to Asheville.

Wiseman was handed a $15,000 fine and a sentence of 37 months, at the low end of the range recommended by federal officials, with Conrad balancing his “heinous” participation in kickbacks against his “early and truthful cooperation” with prosecutors. Stone received 33 months and a $15,000 fine; although Conrad reduced that sentence based on her limited role in awarding contracts to Wiseman, he said her conduct showed “entitlement” to using taxpayer money for personal benefit.

Although Conrad noted that Creighton was more culpable in the kickback scheme than was Stone, he gave the former official only 18 months of prison time, along with a $25,000 fine. Prosecutor Richard Edwards had recommended a reduced sentence due to Creighton’s “extraordinary substantial assistance” in the investigation, saying that in nearly 35 years of experience, he’d “never had this level of defendant [cooperation], white-collar or otherwise.”

Michael Greene received the lightest sentence, just six months of imprisonment and a $5,000 fine, as punishment for his misuse of county credit cards, which federal officials regarded as the least serious of the crimes being considered. Conrad did not mince words in handing down the judgment, however, saying Greene had a “sense of arrogance” and “a history of misuse of position as a county official.”

Greene’s attorney, Ted Besen, had asked Conrad not to impose more than a $2,000 fine on his client. In response, Conrad pointed out that Greene had listed a $5,000 monthly stipend from his mother as part of financial documents filed before sentencing. Those recurring funds gave him a “greater ability to deal with any monetary costs imposed by the court,” the judge remarked.

End of the beginning

Edwards noted that both Wanda Greene and Wiseman could serve less prison time than announced due to their help in the federal government’s ongoing look into Buncombe County corruption. In each case, he referenced Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which allows a court to reduce sentences for “substantial assistance in investigating or prosecuting another person.”

The prosecutor called Buncombe County a “target-rich environment” of current and former officials. Edwards noted that former Commissioner Ellen Frost had already been indicted for allegedly conspiring with Greene to direct county funds to the Tryon International Equestrian Center and other equestrian pursuits; another as-yet-unnamed former commissioner, he said, had used gift cards illegally obtained by Greene. He added that the former manager, despite exhibiting the “most obvious” corruption to date, would not be considered a “sore thumb” once the federal investigation was concluded.

Edwards said it was “standard practice” for contractors to pay for expensive meals, wine and gifts — including a set of golf clubs — as they entertained high-level county staff members and commissioners in expectation of government contracts. He also suggested that Buncombe officials failed to investigate obvious signs of corruption, such as Stone seeking county reimbursement for an airline seat upgrade on a Wiseman-funded pleasure trip to Florida but not providing details for the flight itself.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” remarked Conrad.

“You’re looking at it from the perspective of rationality and internal controls. This was Buncombe County,” Edwards replied.

At the end of the hearings, Conrad said he hoped his assignment of active prison sentences would serve as a deterrent to other would-be offenders and foster “a respect for the law” among government officials. Yet as he ruminated on how Buncombe County could go about restoring the public’s trust, the judge said he was “at a loss to answer that question.”

Updated 11:27 on 9/5/19 to accurately reflect attorney names.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Green Scene editor and a reporter for Mountain Xpress. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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12 thoughts on “Prison for all in Buncombe corruption scheme

  1. Jon King

    People like Wanda Greene give public servants and public service a bad name.
    Glad to see some justice meted.

  2. Enlightened Enigma

    Probably the biggest group of NC criminal democrackkks convicted in one showdown, yet this historical event is barely mentioned in mainstream statewide news…oh how media shelters the ‘crackkks…

  3. Mike

    But Brownie “Sgt Schultz” Newman who was in charge of this cluster – f walks away untouched.

    • Richard B.

      Mr. Newman was on the Board, but David Gantt was the Chairman during a good deal of Ms. Greene’s corrupt, thieving tenure.
      Mr. Gantt held a good deal of power with his oversight of the financial operations of the County Manager, and, apparently the others
      were content to ignore sporadic warning signs, especially the concerns of people like Commissioner Mike Fryar, and let Mr. Gantt
      handle it.

  4. Richard B.

    The bigger story is being ignored. Yes, the prison terms for the bad actors is scintillating news indeed. However, it apparently has blinded
    our local media as well as the public to the larger questions of how did our elected Commissioners allow this to happen over a period of several years?
    And there are still a few of these Commissioners currently serving on the Board who were present for the on-going corruption occurring right
    under their noses. Except for Mike Fryar, who single-handedly tried to bring attention to red flags, suspecting that there were missing funds perhaps in the millions of dollars, others ignored the signs.
    Somewhat in their defense, the Chairman of the Board at the time, David Gantt, had almost unlimited powers of oversight, with the other Board
    members relying on his judgment to oversee the County Manager and her financial operations. Has he been questioned about what he knew,
    been made to account for what he should have known but did not?
    There needs to be a phase II of this theft of millions of dollars from the Buncombe County taxpayers.
    At the least take a closer look at the current Board Commissioners who failed their fiduciary responsibilities to their electorate and to all BC taxpayers,
    allowing the Wanda Green Gang to steal with impunity. How did this happen?

    • bsummers

      And yes, by all means let’s ignore the fact that Wanda Greene has admitted that her schemes started when Nathan Ramsey was Commission Chairman. He was her boss for 8 years, but we don’t call him “Sgt. Shultz”. Why is that?

      • Lulz

        Jesus man toss them all in prison. Your partisanship is astounding. Bottom line is that people are willing to give over their money and freedom for government. And time and time again those within the government are becoming nothing more than criminals. And that’s the real story. Trust in government? Hell no. Those people not only need oversight, but they should be prevented from voting simply because who they vote in is running on taking more money from taxpayers. It’s why the whole system is corrupt and failing. Name one government agency or program in the black. You can’t because these scumbags aren’t their to save money. Or do anything but advocate for more money.

        • bsummers

          Your partisanship is astounding.

          I’m just noting that commenters here for some reason only want to go after the Commissioners from one party, and not the other. I’m bi-partisan about this, my anonymous little friend. Nathan Ramsey (R) had oversight on Wanda Greene for eight years when she started these crimes, but you torch-wavers never seem to want to haul him in front of the inquisition.

          they should be prevented from voting…

          And other fascist wet dreams…

        • luther blissett

          “Name one government agency or program in the black.”

          lol someone who thinks government should be making a profit.

          It’d be nice to think that the part-time commissioners could magic up the hours to check everything done by long-serving full-time staff, but the math doesn’t work. It works on trust, and Greene violated that trust. (There’s too much concentration of power in council-manager systems, regardless.)

          Not being able to trust people is expensive. (e.g. security cameras) The county will spend a lot of taxpayer money over the coming years on additional audits and safeguards to prevent this happening again.

          • Lulz

            LOL is it making a profit or running even or under budget? LOL at the people who think government should take other peoples money at will and either misspend it, misuse it, or outright steal it and want more. LOL at allowing those people in government the same voting rights as those who PAY them and then call them fascist. LOL at believing people being taxed out of their homes is a good thing so corporations can have literally free reign to build hotels left and right and not pay the related costs of the impacts on everything. And LOL at trying to tie Trump into what Asheville is and how its gentrifying people out for the rich and corporate chains.

          • bsummers

            Um, don’t want to interrupt your LOLing, but who said anything about Trump?

  5. MG Massey

    If you reported sexual abuse in Asheville under Mandy Stone, the pedophile will not be arrested nor even investigated.
    You and your children will be harassed.
    Hiding Federal complaints filed against her are the least of her sins.
    Not investigate pedophiles?
    Only those who support trafficking like Stone get sent to jail for embezzlement, when their real crime is abuse of the rights of survivors of pedophiles.
    Attn.
    Daniel Waltin

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