A 23-count criminal indictment was returned by a federal grand jury sitting in Asheville late Tuesday, charging former Buncombe County Manager Wanda Skillington Greene, 66, of Arden, N.C., with wire fraud, federal program fraud, and money laundering, in connection with a $2.3 million scheme involving the purchase of whole life insurance policies for herself and other county employees using misappropriated County funds, announced R. Andrew Murray, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.
John A. Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Charlotte Division; Director Robert Schurmeier of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI); and Matthew D. Line, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division, Charlotte Field Office (IRS-CI), join U.S. Attorney Murray in making today’s announcement.
According to the indictment, Wanda Greene was appointed as County Manager for Buncombe County (the County) in 1997, and remained in that position until her retirement in June 2017. As County Manager, Wanda Greene was responsible for the administration of all departments of the County’s government under the control of the Board of Commissioners (the Board). In that role, Wanda Greene had the power to appoint, suspend, and remove all county officers, employees, and agents, and was responsible for directing and supervising the administration of all county offices, departments, boards, commissions and agencies controlled by the Board. As part of her duties, Wanda Greene was also required to prepare and submit the County’s annual budget and capital program to the Board, and to submit annually to the Board, and make available to the public, a complete report of the finances and administrative activities of the county at the end of the fiscal year.
According to allegations contained in the indictment, beginning in or about April 2015, and continuing until in or about July 2017, Greene defrauded Buncombe County by misappropriating approximately $2.3 million of Buncombe County funds to purchase whole life insurance policies for herself, her son Michael Greene, and eight other County employees, and to purchase an annuity for another county employee who did not qualify for a whole life insurance policy. During the time period relevant to the indictment, Buncombe County received benefits in excess of $10,000 per year under a federal program involving a grant, contract, subsidy, loan, and other forms of federal assistance.
The indictment alleges that in April 2015, Greene began communicating with a Charlotte-based insurance agent about her intent to procure insurance policies for herself and certain other Buncombe County employees at County expense. Shortly after meeting with the insurance agent, Greene falsely began telling selected County employees that she had been working with the Board on a new benefit program for certain employees involving the County’s purchase of life insurance policies for them, at no expense to the employee. Greene allegedly stressed that only certain employees would be receiving this benefit, and told the employees with whom she spoke to keep this program and their participation strictly confidential.
According to the indictment, the policies that Greene was procuring were whole life insurance policies, with a resulting cash value and the ability to borrow against such policies. Furthermore, the indictment alleges that, at Greene’s direction, the County prepaid the initial payment and several years’ worth of annual premiums for each policy agreement, which meant that, upon termination of the policy, a policy owner could receive whatever cash value the policy had, as well as the remaining prepaid premiums. The indictment alleges that in this manner, in the first month after Greene retired from her County employment, she was able to obtain cash out of two such policies, thereby personally obtaining approximately $396,000 of fraudulently-acquired money funded by Buncombe County.
According to allegations in the indictment, Greene selected the employees that would receive the life insurance policies and selected the amounts the County would prepay for each policy. To fund the scheme, Greene did not seek the Board’s authorization to purchase these policies with County funds. Rather, in order to gain access to the County money necessary to fund her scheme, the indictment alleges that Greene inflated the settlement amounts for two federal civil rights lawsuits against the County that the Board agreed to pay. She later fraudulently claimed to the life insurance company, the insurance agent, and to the various County employees that the Board had also approved and enacted funding for the life insurance program she had created when it enacted a budget amendment to settle those lawsuits, when, in fact, the Board never approved, and never even knew about the existence of, Greene’s life insurance scheme.
The indictment further alleges that after the Board approved the requisite budget amendment to fund the settlement of the civil lawsuits, Greene 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. According to the indictment, shortly before she announced her intention to retire, Greene attempted to quadruple the quarterly payments from $40,000 to $160,000. When the County’s Finance Director expressed concern about the increased amount, Greene destroyed the handwritten note she had provided requesting the increase, and told the Finance Director to forget about any more payments.
On May 30, 2017, Greene publicly announced her retirement, which took effect on June 30, 2017. The indictment alleges that, almost immediately upon her retirement, Greene liquidated her two life insurance policies. As a result, on or about July 13, 2017, the insurance company sent Greene two checks totaling $395,859.60, which Greene deposited into her State Employee Credit Union account. Less than a month later, on or about August 7, 2017, Greene used a portion of the proceeds from the insurance checks to wire $155,000 from her State Employees Credit Union account to the account of a law firm in Nashville, Tennessee.
Wanda Greene has been ordered to appear on a summons on the charges. She is charged with 12 counts of wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; eight counts of federal program fraud, each carrying a maximum prison term of 10 years per count and a $250,000 fine; and three counts of money laundering, which carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison per count and a $250,000 fine.
A separate federal indictment was filed in April 2018, against Wanda Greene and her son, Michael Greene, for misusing their government credit cards to make approximately $200,000 worth of improper purchases. Those charges are still pending.
In making today’s announcement U.S. Attorney Murray thanked the FBI, IRS-CI and the SBI for their investigation of this case, and noted that the investigation into allegations of criminal activities within the Buncombe County Government is ongoing.
Assistant United States Attorney Richard Edwards of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville is in charge of the prosecution.