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DeKalb County Mayor Cleared Of UCDD Charges

DeKalb County Mayor Cleared Of UCDD Charges

By Phil Williams. CREATED Feb 19, 2014

SMITHVILLE, Tenn. -- He had faced five years in federal prison as part of the scandal involving Wendy Askins and the Upper Cumberland Development District.

But now DeKalb County Mayor Mike Foster is planning for the future after federal prosecutors agreed to drop criminal charges against him.

Foster had faced a single count of making false statements involving the use of federal money.

"You swing from disbelief to terror to disbelief," the DeKalb County mayor recalled during an exclusive interview with NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

For the past four months, Foster had lived with the dark cloud of the federal indictment hanging over his head. But last week, he finally got to call home to let his wife know it was all over.

"It was like relief," Foster said, as tears welled up in his eyes. "You know, it's just a really, really good moment. And to call your kids too. You don't want them to think you're doing something wrong."

The controversy stemmed from Foster's tenure as the chairman of the Upper Cumberland Development District -- at the same time that longtime UCDD boss Wendy Askins was diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars of agency money into that million-dollar Living the Dream facility in rural Putnam County.

What was supposed to become a home for needy seniors also became Askins' home.

Federal prosecutors indicted Foster for a moment, captured by NewsChannel 5's cameras, where Askins gave him language asking the agency board to retroactively approve a bogus set of minutes in an attempt to justify a $300,000 transfer.

"Literally, you could look at the alleged crime being committed -- which was me being handed -- and every time I look at it I see a little something extra," he said.

Foster's attorney, Hal Hardin, argued that he should never have been charged with making false statements because the video showed he was being manipulated by Askins and because he had expressed some uncertainty about whether the minutes were really accurate.

"Somebody handed me a letter to read and said read this, and I did that," the Dekalb County mayor said.

Faced with a motion to dismiss, federal prosecutors agreed to drop the charge.

Tuesday, the judge made it official.

"That's the judge's signature right there," Foster said, just minutes after getting the final agreed order signed by the judge.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Foster, "If you had not had that video, do you think the outcome would have been different?"

"I think it would have been different," he agreed.

Still, he insisted that he's not bitter.

"I wouldn't go through it again, if I could, for any amount of money. But I wouldn't think anything for the experience either because it makes you think, makes you appreciate every little thing you take for granted."

Now, with those charges thrown out, Mike Foster said that he plans to seek re-election to a fourth term as the DeKalb County mayor.

As for the UCDD case, Wendy Askins and her deputy Larry Webb are scheduled to go on trial this summer. When that happens, Foster could become a witness.

As part of the agreed order with prosecutors, Foster had to agree not to sue the federal government for wrongful prosecution.

Still, UCDD officials have asked their insurance company whether it would pay Foster's legal fees, which could be as much as $60,000.

Back to NC5 Investigates: UCDD
NewsChannel 5 Investigates

Phil Williams

Phil Williams

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Phil Williams is chief investigative reporter for NewsChannel 5's nationally award-winning investigative team. His investigations have earned him journalism's highest honors.