Word on the street is that life insurance payments made on behalf of former Buncombe County manager Wanda Greene are at the heart of an ongoing federal fraud investigation.
Buncombe County officials won’t release information about those life insurance payments, saying they’re part of an ongoing criminal investigation, the Asheville Citizen-Times‘ Jennifer Bowman reports. County attorney Michael Frue denied the newspaper’s Nov. 15 public records request for those records. Frue has also denied other requested records, citing his interpretation of state law that makes certain criminal investigation records private.
But the director of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition tells the newspaper that those records should not be withheld from public view. Bowman quotes Jonathan Jones as saying public records remain public even when they become subject to a criminal investigation.
What we know so far: In an October interview with WLOS-TV, Buncombe County Commissioner Ellen Frost described a divisive work environment that she said Greene created for commissioners, as well as county staff. Commissioners were told they could face misdemeanor criminal charges for talking directly to a county staff member, Frost said. In small group meetings, Republican commissioners were kept separate from Democratic commissioners, Frost said. Also, commissioners were forced to talk on encrypted, “burner” phones, she said, because the level of fear and distrust was so high.
Frost told WLOS that three “brave” county staff members finally stepped forward with questions about county spending, questions that apparently led to the FBI investigation. Word on the street is that no other county officials are the focus of federal investigators looking into Greene.
In the same WLOS interview, Commissioner Mike Fryar and Frost maintain that they still don’t know where some $3.5 million in federal reimbursement dollars ended up. The federal government paid the county that money in return for the Buncombe County jail housing federal inmates.
In search warrants, federal investigators say they have cause to believe that Greene committed federal program fraud, mail fraud and wire fraud, the Citizen-Times has reported. Here’s a summary of what we know about what I’m calling the GreeneGate investigation so far.
The investigation continues: The investigation continues, but there’s been a significant change at the top. U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose, the U.S. attorney for North Carolina’s western district, is leaving her post to take a job as the Justice Department’s resident legal adviser for several Persian Gulf states on anti-money laundering practices, the Citizen-Times reported recently. That means Westmoreland Rose will hand over the ongoing investigation to fellow federal attorneys.
The next federal grand jury in Asheville is scheduled for February. There’s speculation that Greene and her attorney, Thomas Amburgey, will reach a plea agreement with federal prosecutors before the next grand jury seating.
Below is a link to Fryar/Frost interview regarding the investigation. In this interview Fryar & Frost confirm it was the Commissioners who went to WLOS and the ACT to spur them to submit FOIA requests to BC government, then based upon the findings they went to Attorney Frue, and then the DA, who then brought in the FBI.