US Atty: Former Buncombe Co. Manager charged in $2.3M laundering - FOX Carolina 21

US Atty: Former Buncombe Co. Manager charged in $2.3M laundering scheme

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(file photo | Associated Press) (file photo | Associated Press)
ASHEVILLE, NC (FOX Carolina) -

Former Buncombe Co. Manager Wanda Skillington Greene has been charged with wire fraud, federal program fraud, and money laundering, according to U.S Attorney, R. Andrew Murray.

Murray said Greene was charged on 23 counts by a federal grand jury in Asheville after she allegedly defrauded Buncombe County by misappropriating $2.3 million of the county's funds. 

According to the federal indictment, Greene used these funds to purchase whole life insurance policies for herself, her son, and eight other county employees, and to purchase and annuity for another county employee who did not qualify for a whole life insurance policy. 

Murray reported that back in April 2015, Greene began communicating with a Charlotte-based insurance agent about her intent to purchase insurance policies for herself and other Buncombe County employees at the county's expense. Greene then began to falsely tell employees about a new benefit program she had been working on with the Board. 

According to Murray, Greene stressed that only certain employees would be receiving the benefit package, and told the employees that were selected to keep the program strictly confidential.

Murray said Greene was obtaining whole life insurance policies, with a resulting cash value. This meant that upon termination of the policy, a policy owner could receive whatever cash value the policy had, as well as the prepaid premiums. 

In just the first month after her county employment, Greene was able to obtain about $396,000 in fraudulently-acquired money from Buncombe County, said a report from Murray's office.

To fund this scheme, Greene did not seek the approval of the Board, but rather she inflated the settlement amounts for two federal civil rights lawsuits against the county that the board agreed to pay, said Murray. 

The indictment further alleged that after the Board approved this payment, Greene then caused a series of interstate wire transactions to make initial lump-sum prepayments, and later quarterly payments, toward the premiums of the various insurance policies. 

This was when Greene attempted to quadruple the quarterly payments from $40,000 to $160,000, and the County's Finance Director began to express concern, said Murray. 

On May 30, 2017 Greene announced her retirement. The indictment stated that upon her retirement she liquidated her two life insurance policies and wired her funds to a law firm in Nashville, Tennessee. 

Wanda Greene has been charged with the following: 

  • 12 counts of wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years, and a $250,000 fine
  • 8 counts of federal program fraud, each carrying a maximum prison term of 10 years and a $250,000 fine
  • 3 counts of money laundering, which carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine 

U.S Attorney Murray stated that another federal indictment was filed in April 2018 against Greene and her son for misusing government credit cards. Those charges are still pending. 

Buncombe County Commissioners responded to the charges, below:

Buncombe County is aggressively pursuing all legal recourse to recover public funds including filing a civil lawsuit against Wanda Greene and Michael Greene and seeking restitution for all losses caused by the actions of Wanda Greene, her son Michael Greene, as well as any other persons or entities that have participated in or profited from the unlawful actions of Wanda Greene and Michael Greene.

Prior to the announcement of a new Federal Indictment in the Wanda Greene investigation, Buncombe County had been requested by federal investigators not to take any action that might impede the investigation. Buncombe County is now able to share the following information.

From this investigation, it was determined that an unknown number of whole life policies were purchased for known and unknown current and former County employees.  Dr. Greene, an experienced CPA and trained internal auditor, structured the use of public funds and payments so there was no master list of recipients.  It has taken the last ten months of external and internal investigation to uncover the details regarding what was purchased and the amount of public funds involved.

Based on the information uncovered so far, the following has been determined:

  • Greene used an appropriation within an unrelated budget amendment, placed on the consent agenda, to fund the purchase of these policies making it difficult for others to detect her actions;
  • The Board of Commissioners never approved this appropriation or the purchase of these policies;
  • Greene represented to these current or former County employees that the Board had approved the purchase of these policies for specific employees as an approved deferred compensation;
  • Greene caused $2,310,000 to be sent to a life insurance provider through a series of wire transfers in order to fund the purchase of insurance policies and an annuity.

NC General Statues §153A-92 does allow for life insurance to be purchased for an individual or class of employees, however, a public vote by the Commissioners is required. The employees receiving policies were advised by Dr. Greene that these policies were approved by Commissioners and lawful under NC law.

None of these County employees had any knowledge or access to information that would have informed them that these policies were not approved nor of the actual cost involved. It is believed that Dr. Greene misled them as a vehicle for her own financial gain and that of her son.

Upon learning that statutory requirements to create a specific class of employees eligible for a benefit were not followed and that the Board did not formally approve any appropriation for the purchase of policies, all employees, except Dr. Greene and her son, Michael Greene, proactively came forward and assigned the policies to Buncombe County. These employees are: Michael Frue; Mandy Stone; Tim Flora; Diane Price; Matt Stone; Greg Isreal; Jon Creighton; Pat Freeman; and Jerry VeHaun. None of these County employees received any financial benefit from this product.  Additionally, upon learning that the appropriations were not approved by the Board of Commissioners, the insurance provider has thus far cooperated fully with Buncombe County to recover funds used to purchase the policies assigned to Buncombe County by the aforementioned employees. 

Shortly after the effective date of her retirement, Wanda Greene cashed in the policies issued in her name which cost $458,437.59. 

Two policies remain outstanding in the name of Michael Greene which cost $143,381.05. 

If proven true, this will be another example of Wanda Greene misleading the Board of Commissioners, a number of current and former county employees, and County taxpayers, with the goal to use public funds for her personal benefit while involving other County employees in an attempt to hide her actions. 

This internal investigation further revealed that the wire transfers were processed without proper supporting documentation. In this case, Dr. Greene instructed Budget and Finance staff to wire the funds. This is a system weakness that has been addressed and corrected.

As early as the time that County staff originally identified financial irregularities and contacted law enforcement the Board of Commissioners instructed staff to make every effort to recover all funds misappropriated due to Wanda Greene's actions.  Senior Staff Attorney has been consulting with outside insurance and bond attorneys since July 2017 in an effort to recover these funds. 

RELATED: Former Buncombe Co. Manager, son indicted on federal charges for misusing public funds

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