Wendy Askins, Two Others Indicted By Federal Grand Jury
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A federal grand jury has indicted three former officials from the Upper Cumberland Development District as part of a wide-ranging conspiracy into the misappropriation of federal funds by the Cookeville-based agency.
Former UCDD executive director Wendy Askins and former assistant director Larry Webb are charged with conspiracy, embezzlement, bank fraud, money laundering and making false statements in connection with money diverted to Living the Dream, a luxurious home for needy seniors that also became Askins' home.
DeKalb County Mayor Mike Foster, who once served as chair of the UCDD board, was also indicted along with Askins for making false statements to the agency's board of directors during a January 2012 meeting about the transfer of federal funds to the property.
The 16-count indictment follows a scandal first exposed by NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
"Once again, we will reiterate that those who seek to profit by defrauding the taxpaying public and misusing government funds will be held accountable," said Acting U.S. Attorney David Rivera in a statement. "The personal gain and lavish lifestyles gained by fraudulent schemes will eventually come to an end. Public corruption remains a top priority of the U.S. Attorney's Office and our partner law enforcement agencies."
At the center of the allegations, the indictment says, is a conspiracy to "convert over $670,000 of government funds," along with securing loans from two banks, for Living the Dream.
That facility, according to the federal grand jury, was "owned by Askins and Webb."
After NewsChannel 5 began investigating, "Askins and Webb directed other individuals to alter official minutes of UCDD meetings and to delete audio recordings of meetings," the indictment says.
"Askins advised Webb and another that they should 'get their stories straight' before a UCDD Board meeting and prepared a false statement which was read to the meeting" by Foster.
Foster, coached by Webb, read the statement to cover up for a bogus set of minutes that had been provided to NewsChannel 5 Investigates, claiming that the UCDD board had approved the transfer of $300,000 of agency funds to Living the Dream.
Askins and Webb were placed on administrative leave in February 2012, pending an internal investigation, less than two weeks after NewsChannel 5's stories first began airing.
Two months later, as that internal investigation was being finalized, both submitted their resignations.
If convicted, Askins faces up to 225 years in federal prison and $6.75 million in fines on all charges. Webb faces 220 years and $6.5 million in fines.
Foster faces five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted on the one count.
According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office:
The case was investigated by agents with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General, the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Inspector General, the IRS-Criminal Investigations and the FBI, with assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development- Office of Inspector General. The United States is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Darryl Stewart and Scarlett Singleton.
"This indictment should send a signal to those who would seek to take advantage of a position of trust for personal gain," said A. Todd McCall, Special Agent in Charge of the Memphis Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. "The FBI and our law enforcement partners place a priority on investigating these crimes, and will continue to work to ensure that those who violate the law are held accountable."
Christopher A. Henry, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation, Nashville Field Office, said, "IRS Criminal Investigation is committed to investigating and prosecuting those who defraud state and federal grant programs and sending a clear message that these violations are serious crimes against the American public. Our special agents provide the financial expertise in following the money."
"This is a prime example of a combined investigative effort, successfully exposing grant fraud and protecting taxpayer monies," said Todd Zinser, Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Commerce-OIG.
Efforts to reach Askins, Webb, and Foster have, so far, been unsuccessful.