UCDD Scandal Draws Attention From Feds
By Phil Williams. CREATED Mar 7, 2012
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- NewsChannel 5 has learned that investigators from at least two federal agencies are now taking an interest in the scandal involving the Upper Cumberland Development District.
In addition, the woman at the center of that controversy has now hired a lawyer.
All of this comes as a new state report confirms many of the findings of a NewsChannel 5 investigation into the agency that's supposed to create jobs and help the poor in 14 Middle Tennessee counties.
The latest interest in the UCDD scandal comes from the inspector general for the U.S. Economic Development Administration which plans to send investigators to Cookeville to determine if any of its money was misused. That agency provides much of the federal funding to UCDD for economic development.
In addition, the federal Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) says it's also working with state auditors, who returned in force this week to UCDD's offices.
"Our inspector general is coordinating with state investigators to ensure that any ARC funding has not been used in any illegal way, with respect to this project," a spokesperson told NewsChannel 5 Investigates. "So far, we have no indication that there's been any money used as part of this project."
While it's not clear exactly what pot of money was used for that million-dollar Living the Dream house in rural Putnam County, investigators are questioning how UCDD executive director Wendy Askins managed to transfer $300,000 -- and perhaps much more -- to her pet project.
A new report from the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability says that "no supporting documentation could be found to justify the payment."
It also questions $33,000 in payments to Askins herself -- many of those highlighted in our NewsChannel 5 investigation.
In addition, the report notes that UCDD solicited bids for the exact type of vehicle owned by the executive director of its Area Agency on Aging and Disability -- and that person then offered up a bid.
Then, "the UCDD accepted that bid, bought the vehicle and then provided it to (her) to use for agency purposes."
On top of that, noted criminal defense attorney Jack Lowery out of Lebanon confirms that Ms. Askins has hired him to help her deal with the questions arising out of the UCDD controversy, although he insists that was before there was any confirmation that there might indeed be a criminal investigation.
A lawyer hired by the UCDD board is expected to wrap up his internal investigation within the next three weeks.