The central figure in the corruption scandal that has transfixed Buncombe County government leaders and taxpayers since 2017 has reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors and a settlement with the county.
Former County Manager Wanda Greene agreed to plead guilty to two counts of federal program fraud, one count of receiving bribes and kickbacks and one count of making and subscribing a false tax return.
Each count of program fraud, as well as the count of receiving bribes and kickbacks, could lead to a maximum of 10 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and no more than three years of supervised release. The count of making a false tax return carries a maximum sentence of three years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and one year of supervised release.
In three indictments released over the last several months, Greene has been of accused of using county-issued purchase cards to make thousands of dollars worth of personal purchases, enriching herself by establishing an employee life insurance program without approval from the Board of Commissioners, and accepting kickbacks from a former county contractor in exchange for favorable consideration.
Prosecutors have also accused her of misstating her taxable income in a tax return submitted for calendar year 2017 and submitting a Schedule C form claiming to own a business called “Buncombe County,” which she claimed earned no income but incurred more than $37,000 worth of expenses.
Greene’s plea hearing will occur at 9 a.m. Jan. 16 in the federal courthouse at 100 Otis St. in downtown Asheville.
A $750,000 settlement
On Jan. 2, the night before the plea deal became public, Buncombe County accepted a $750,000 settlement from Greene.
The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the settlement. Board Chair Brownie Newman told Xpress after the meeting that, pending the discovery of any other alleged misdeeds, the settlement resolves all civil complaints the county has brought against Greene.
The $750,000 total takes into account:
- About $242,000 in restitution for money Greene received through the county’s retention incentive program, which the county claims was not approved through proper channels.
- About $176,000 for the purchase of personal items and gift cards using county purchase cards.
- About $221,000 for county funds spent on an employee life insurance program allegedly initiated by Greene that the county says did not receive proper Board of Commissioners approval.
- About $111,000 for trips and entertainment that Greene allegedly received from contractor Joseph Wiseman Jr. in exchange for favorable consideration on county contracts. Prosecutors claim Wiseman recouped money he spent on these kickbacks by inflating reimbursement requests he submitted to the county. Prosecutors have not charged Wiseman with a crime.
With the $750,000 settlement the county accepted on Jan. 2, it has recouped about $2.88 million in losses associated with the alleged corruption.
On Nov. 20, the county accepted a $40,000 settlement from Greene’s son, former county employee Michael Greene. Federal prosecutors charged Greene in April with making about $7,500 in personal purchases with his county-issued purchase card.
“It was discovered that, while he had not been indicted on other matters, the total amount that Buncombe County was probably out by his misdeeds was approximately $38,000,” the county’s attorney for the matter, Ron Payne, told commissioners during the meeting on Nov. 20.
In July, the county agreed to a settlement totaling more than $2 million with Guardian Life Insurance Co., the company prosecutors say Greene used to purchase whole life insurance policies for herself, her son and eight additional county employees. An annuity was purchased for an additional employee. Payne says the settlement reached with Greene makes the county whole for the money that was improperly spent on life insurance policies.
The civil lawsuits against former Assistant County Manager Jon Creighton, former County Manager Mandy Stone, Wiseman and his company, Environmental Infrastructure Consulting, are ongoing.
“We feel like we’re making a lot of progress,” Newman said after the Jan. 2 meeting. “And our goal is to make taxpayers fully whole for the misappropriations these people participated in, and we’re getting very far along in achieving that goal.”
In a motion for protective order filed on Dec. 27, Wiseman’s attorney, Christopher Lewis, says Wiseman and Environmental Infrastructure Consulting deny the allegations included in the Aug. 7 indictment and the county’s civil lawsuit. Lewis asked the court to halt the discovery process until the criminal investigation into former county officials associated with the alleged kickback scheme is complete. Lewis also wrote that Wiseman has filed a motion to be dismissed from the county’s civil lawsuit on several legal grounds, including lack of jurisdiction.
Editors note: This article was updated to add the time and date of Wanda Greene’s plea hearing.
This article was updated at 3 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 7, to clarify the nature of the motion for protective order submitted by Wiseman’s attorney.