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What would prompt a federal investigation into former Buncombe County manager?

Greene retired on July 1st (Courtesy: WLOS)

The federal investigation continues into former Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene and others, but the U.S. Attorney's Office still won't reveal what it is investigating.

An Asheville defense attorney Steve Lindsay explains a federal investigation can extend beyond interstate crimes and commerce. Lindsay says federal investigators can also look into corruption and can investigate if an elected or appointed official is abusing their power.

"As a result of that position, they abuse or are accused of abusing their position of trust for some sort of financial gain. It's not necessarily for themselves. It could be for a family member. It could be for a friend," Lindsay said.

He says federal investigators can also look into whether a person is buying a favor or doing a favor for political gain. There are recent examples of of these sorts of cases:

  1. In 2006, Bobby Medford lost his reelection for sheriff. Two years later he was convicted in federal court on corruption and extortion charges. He is still serving time in federal prison.
  2. Macon County's former Board of Elections Director Kim Bishop pleaded guilty last summer in federal court to embezzling $68,000 of tax payers' money.
  3. There is also an ongoing federal fraud case involving former Tryon Councilman Leroy Miller and the town's former Fire Chief/Town Manager Joey Davis.

Those cases all involved money and attorney Steve Lindsay. He says there are pros and cons of having a case in federal court.

"Cases that go to federal court are more serious in the sense that the punishment you're looking at is more serious than what you may be looking at in state court," Lindsay explained.

On the flip side, he says there aren't elected prosecutors in federal court. Before a case goes to trial, the federal government has a tool that state and local authorities don't: The feds can convene an investigative grand jury.

"That type of grand jury, the kind that a federal government can run, has the power to subpoena witnesses to come on and testify under oath. They have the power to subpoena documents," Lindsay said.

Wanda Greene announced her retirement on May 30. She wrote to Commission Chairman Brownie Newman, "Over the last few weeks, I have reflected on my career." In those weeks prior to her retirement announcement, News 13 was asking Greene questions about the county's finances and who got raises in 2016.

News 13 asked about what happened to savings from the new law enforcement gun range, which came in $2 million under budget. In a June 5 email Greene wrote, "We budgeted $7.4 million for the firing range and were able to use the savings from that project to fund required public safety vehicles and ambulance replacement in order to remove that new cost from the 2018 budget."

News 13 also asked how the county specifically spent $3.4 million the City of Asheville paid to the county in exchange for buying property on Ferry Road, which was meant to lure Deschutes Brewery. Greene emailed June 6, "The $3.4 million was deposited to public safety revenue when we received it."

Commissioners were asking questions, too. On May 23 Vice Chair Ellen Frost emailed Greene, "Where is that money?" On May 24, Mike Fryar emailed Greene, "If correct, we should have approximately $6.4 million somewhere."

In a May 3 interview, Greene told News 13, "We have a balanced budget going forward, and we're in good financial standing."

In Greene's final interview with News 13, she said she wouldn't miss being a public figure. She retired July 1, and seven weeks later, News 13 learned she is the subject of a federal investigation.


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