DA Requests Special Prosecutor In UCDD Case

DA Requests Special Prosecutor In UCDD Case

By Phil Williams. CREATED Feb 29, 2012

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- District Attorney General Randy York has asked for a special prosecutor to decide whether criminal charges should be brought over allegations surrounding the Upper Cumberland Development District.

That major development comes as NewsChannel 5 Investigates has now uncovered a startling new document that raises even more questions about whether UCDD board members were misled about that million-dollar Living the Dream house in rural Putnam County.

 "Due to recent allegations concerning UCDD and the Living the Dream project, I felt it was appropriate that the matter needed to be investigated," York wrote in a letter to NewsChannel 5.

"Because of a potential conflict my office has with the case and in order to let the citizens of this district know that  this matter would be handled fairly, I have requested that a District Attorney Pro Tem be appointed."

York's letter adds that the special prosecutor would "review all the facts and make a decision as to what steps, if any, needed to be made."

It is not clear how long it will take for the Tennessee District Attorney General's Conference to find someone to handle the case.

That action follows questions raised by NewsChannel 5 Investigates regarding Living the Dream, a project that was supposed to become a home for needy senior citizens, but also became home for UCDD executive director Wendy Askins.

Our investigation discovered that hundreds of thousands of dollars of UCDD money financed the project, as well as all sorts of other questionable spending.

But NewsChannel 5 obtained an appraisal suggesting that the project may not have been as valuable as UCDD board members were led to believe.

"I asked the question when we get this facility done, I made the motion on this that we have a full-blown appraisal of what it was worth," recalled Smith County Mayor Michael Nesbitt.

Last year, Nesbitt asked during a meeting of the Cumberland Area Investment Corp., a UCDD-affiliated entity, whether that Living the Dream property had a final appraisal showing how much it would be worth when all the proposed work was completed.

It already had a $750,000 bank mortgage. At the time, Askins and her deputy Larry Webb were looking to borrow another $225,000 from CAIC.

"We don't have an appraisal, because of the construction going on," Webb told Nesbitt and other members of the CAIC board. "We had one originally."

"What was the original?" Nesbitt asked.

"Before all the additions, a little over a million dollars," Webb answered.

Nesbitt told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, "So I took it that there wasn't an appraisal there."

In fact, there was an appraisal, dated August 2010. It listed Living the Dream's market value -- "as proposed" with all the planned additions -- of $860,000.

That appraisal also was based on the assumption that the facility would become a licensed assisted-living facility.

When we showed it to Nesbitt, he said it was the first time he'd ever known it really existed.

"So do you feel like you were lied to?" we asked.

He paused, adding: "I wasn't told the whole truth."

Our investigation discovered that, by the time Askins was finished, more than $1.5 million would be poured into house, which became her home as well as a place to stable her horses.

"So to use a term that many people know these days, this facility is underwater?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Nesbitt.

"There's more money owed against it than it's worth," he acknowledged.

And the board was never told that?

"There were a lot of things that the board was not told," the Smith County mayor added.

It's a document that Nesbitt wishes he'd seen before Living the Dream became such a nightmare.

"If we had had this appraisal in our hand that day, I still believe the board would not have voted to loan $225,000 to something that already had $750,000 against it."

Last week, Askins and Webb were put on administrative leave last week, pending the outcome of an internal investigation. Board members were concerned about $300,000 of agency money that went to Living the Dream without their permission. 

But our investigation has uncovered even more money and, now, more information that board members also never knew about.

Back to NC5 Investigates: UCDD
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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.