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UCDD Board To Meet Friday Amid New Questions

UCDD Board To Meet Friday Amid New Questions

By Phil Williams. CREATED Feb 23, 2012

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A lot of eyes will be on the Upper Cumberland Development District Friday morning.

That's when its board meets in emergency session to deal with the fallout from an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation.

That investigation exposed agency funds spent on that million-dollar house in Putnam County, plus all sorts of other extravagant spending.

The last time that the UCDD board met, some members seemed to be concerned that disgruntled agency employees might be stirring up the whole controversy.

"I think at times some of these things are motivated by maybe jealousy, maybe, I don't know what," chairman Mike Foster told the board at that Feb. 10th meeting. "But it's too time consuming, and it's cost this agency a lot of money."

That was just days before our investigation into how agency money had gone into that Living the Dream house in rural Putnam County. What was supposed to become a retirement home for needy seniors also became UCDD executive director Wendy Askins' luxurious home.

But, at that last meeting, that wasn't Foster's primary concern.
 
"John and I talked about the other day," Foster said, referring to vice chair John Pelham. "We're ready for an investigation that clears this up. Then we are ready for an investigation that gets to the bottom of it as to why, who, and proceed."
 
Askins, sitting to Foster's right, nodded approvingly.
 
In fact, the chairman already knew that Askins had started Living the Dream with $300,000, then gave NewsChannel 5 a bogus set of minutes claiming it had been approved by the UCDD board in February 2010.
 
"I don't know how fraudulent they are, but they were incorrect," Foster said.
 
But that was before, our investigation exposed all sorts of questionable spending by Askins -- like that $2,800 catering bill. She turned in a receipt saying it was for a banquet for young athletes and 4-Hers.
 
But we discovered it was really for a campaign fundraiser for Democrat Hank Fincher.
 
"It was a political fundraiser," NewsChannel 5 Investigates told her.
 
"I am not aware that it was a political fundraiser, but the governor was there," she claimed.
 
Fincher told NewsChannel 5 that Askins was one of the organizers for his fundraiser.
 
Since then, we've discovered all sorts of other questions.
 
For example, there's a receipt that purports to be a receipt from Nick's Italian Restaurant.  That receipt was for $428 dollars on July 7, 2010.
 
That's a day the restaurant told us and UCDD that it was closed.
 
Attorneys hired by the board haven't been able to explain it either.
 
We've also discovered another expenditure at Crawdaddy's West Side Grill in Cookeville. 
 
Askins' expense report claims it was "lunch with BPC (Bank of Putnam County to discuss account."
 
But the restaurant's receipt actually lists the names of the diners: Wendy, Anna, Tyler. That's Wendy Askins' daughter Anna and Anna's boyfriend, Tyler Dunn.
 
Those are the kinds of questions that NewsChannel 5 Investigates wanted to ask, but Askins would not sit down to answer all of our question.
 
As for the chairman, Mike Foster told us that he learned a lot from our investigation and he's now learned a lot more from attorneys hired by UCDD.
 
Board members are all elected officials from the 14 counties served by UCDD.
 
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.