Askins Files For Unemployment Pay, Claims 'Harassment'
By Phil Williams. CREATED Apr 9, 2012
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The woman at the center of the Upper Cumberland Development District scandal now wants more of your money.
Wendy Askins resigned last month as she faced an investigation into the mismanagement of agency funds.
But NewsChannel 5 Investigates has learned that Askins has now filed for unemployment compensation, claiming that she was the victim of a hostile work environment.
The claim was filed exactly one week after Askins resigned. But, instead of accepting responsibility, she pointed the finger at the people around her.
"This is just a crazy claim," said Ben Cunningham, head of the anti-tax Tennessee Tax Revolt group.
Last month, as Askins made her dramatic appearance before a committee that had been investigating her, it seemed like the end of a chapter.
"I sincerely regret that it has become necessary for me to submit my resignation," she said, reading a prepared letter to committee members.
After 17 years as UCDD's executive director, the controversy over that million-dollar Living the Dream home had Askins about to face a vote over the alleged misappropriation of hundreds of thousands of dollars of agency money.
"I think that was just the inevitable thing that was going to happen anyway whether she made the decision or the board did," Putnam County Executive Kim Blaylock said at the time, agreeing that Askins was "on her way out."
Little did the UCDD board know that, within a week, Askins would turn around and a file a claim for unemployment.
"I mean, to come back to the taxpayers now and expect more money just adds insult to injury," Cunningham said.
At the time, Askins told board members that "I find this resignation necessary because of the firestorm that has been created by Channel 5 news media and a few others."
Now, she has told the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development that "she quit because of situations involving harassment and/or hostility from co-workers, employers or customers."
"You come in and hold her accountable and shine a little sunshine on the situation and she feels like she's being harassed," Cunningham observed. "The only people being harassed here are the taxpayers."
As the agency's lawyer told the full board after Askins resignation, the scandal has now sparked a fullscale state audit, as well as other investigations.
In fact, we've now learned that there was an FBI agent sitting off to the side at that very meeting.
Sources say the FBI is assisting the U.S. Economic Development Administration looking into the possible misuse of federal funds for Living the Dream.
As for Askins' unemployment claim, Cunningham says, enough is enough.
"I think a big red no should be written across here," he adding, holding up the claim. "It's time to deny this, and it's time for her to stop victimizing the taxpayers."
On the advice of lawyers, UCDD officials responded to the state, informing the Department of Labor that she resigned voluntarily and attaching a copy of her resignation letter.
But they are NOT likely to ask for a hearing to contest it.
That's because they do not want to do anything to interfere with those on-going investigations.
Askins' lawyer, Jack Lowery, told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that the unemployment claim "sort of speaks for itself."
He continued to insist that he has not seen any evidence that Ms. Askins committed any crime.
When Ms. Askins resigned, she was making about $110,000 a year.
In Tennessee, the maximum unemployment benefit would be $275 a week. That's $1,800 less than what she got paid by UCDD.