'Living The Dream' Prepared For Auction
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. - The house once known as "Living the Dream" is being prepared for auction.
The Putnam County house stood at the center of the scandal involving the Upper Cumberland Development District, a scandal first uncovered by NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
After the scandal, UCDD officials tried to make a fresh start, even changing the name from "Living the Dream" to "Twin Magnolia."
But recently agency officials had to admit that their efforts to turn it into a profitable boarding home for the elderly had failed.
"So this place is completely empty now?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked current UCDD executive director Mark Farley as he led us on a tour.
"It is, it is," Farley answered. "All the residents moved out somewhere along the end of December."
Once known as "Living the Dream," it became known around Middle Tennessee as "the house that Wendy built."
Wendy Askins was the longtime UCDD executive director who bought the Mediterranean-style home, purchasing the finest accessories using hundreds of thousands of dollars of agency funds.
What was supposed to become a home for needy seniors also became Askins' home, decorated with her furniture and her photos. Its stables also became home for the family horses.
But after the scandal that resulted in Askins' indictment on federal and state fraud charges, agency officials decided in December to move out the five elderly residents who had lived in the apartments behind the main house.
"The Twin Magnolia board that was operating this facility did not have the resources to continue on," Farley said. "It had just got to that point where we had to start moving them out because we didn't have the resources to continue on."
These days, Askins' successor faces a major challenge in getting the right price.
"We've had a lot of people express interest as a boarding home, continuing on with that process," Farley said.
While Askins spent thousands of dollars on high-tech showers in the areas where she and her daughter lived, in the resident areas, the rooms are small and the hallways are too narrow for hospital beds that might be needed to turn it into an assisted-living facility.
"It's wide enough to meet codes, but it's not wide enough to get licensed," Farley said.
He speculated, "I think probably you will have somebody to come in and turn it into a true boarding home. There is a need for that."
If all goes well, agency officials hope to make enough to pay off a million dollars in bank loans that Wendy Askins took out on the place. Still, that could leave hundreds of thousands of dollars more that may never be recovered.
"If it sells for a million dollars, though, the agency will still have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Farley.
"Yes, yes," he acknowledged.
"And that's kind of the sad legacy of this," we noted.
"It is, it is," he responded. "There is no way that we could ever recover what we have in it."
While Wendy Askins awaits trial for her role in the scandal, Farley actually hopes images from Sky5HD help sell a potential buyer on the place.
"It is a very beautiful facility. There's room to get out," the UCDD boss said. "And while there were clients living here, they loved it."
And if Mark Farley can find a buyer who agrees, he too will be living the dream.
"We believe that once the auction happens, we'll be able to close that chapter and take everything and conclude it," he said.
The big question is whether UCDD and the board that actually has control of the home can get anywhere close to a million dollars.
Farley said that one bank has a $700,000 lien on the property, while the other $300,000 is tied to certificates of deposit belonging to the agency.
That money is completely at risk.
As best as anyone can tell, Askins spent at least $1.8 million on the property.
Of course, they'd like to be able to recover all of that money, but no one really thinks that's a realistic possibility.
Askins and her deputy Larry Webb are scheduled to go on trial in federal court in Nashville on June 3rd. Askins also faces state charges in Cookeville, but a trial date has not been set.