Reality Check: Buncombe commissioners question gift card purchases dating to at least 2013

The federal investigation into "Greene and others" includes gift card purchases. (Photo credit: WLOS)

A memo submitted to supplement a receipt says $3,750 worth of gift cards bought in late 2013 and early 2014 were for commissioners to buy office supplies.

Six of the seven people who were commissioners then said they never received or asked for the gift cards. Former commission chair David Gantt said he has been notified he is a potential witness in a criminal investigation and declined to comment any further.

In late 2013, former Buncombe County manager Wanda Greene emailed a lower level employee, directing that person to buy 15 total gift cards, each for $250, to Walmart, Target and Staples. Greene asked the employee to buy the gift cards, "because you've done it before and understand," Greene wrote in her e-mail. According to a warrant, the employee was Greene's former assistant.

The employee bought the gift cards on a county credit card, as Greene directed, but commissioners said they were not for them to get office supplies.

"Absolutely not. I've never seen a gift card, never knew of a gift card," commissioner Mike Fryar said. "That is an excuse. No different than an excuse of 'I'm going to give a 1.5 percent raise to the lower people and turned and give it to herself."

"Never received them. Never knew anything about it. No. Never asked for them. There would've been no need for them," commissioner Joe Belcher said.

See their full interviews here:

The FBI received a search warrant in July 2017 looking for evidence of fraud. The warrant mentions the purchase of gift cards and and counted almost $42,000 worth of gift cards bought. The $3,750 worth of gift cards mentioned above should be in addition to that figure.

Weeks before Greene announced her retirement, this lower level employee bought $14,400 worth of gift cards. She submitted a note requesting the gift cards along with the receipts. The note is signed, "Thank you, Wanda."

"No, that should never even happened," Fryar said. "Absolutely not, it is not the proper use of county money."

"If there's a definite need, then you can either buy it, bring the receipts and be reimbursed or you have accounts. You would have an account through Staples or wherever, and you would order it, and then it should be very well documented," said Belcher.

Purchases go beyond just gift cards. One example is almost $500 spent at Joss & Main. The receipt was emailed to, but it was made on another employee's credit card. The shipping address for the purchase was Greene's Arden home. According to the warrant, two former assistants said Greene used their county credit cards without their permission.

The U.S. Attorney's office said the investigation into Greene is ongoing. The warrant stated, "The disposition of these gift cards is not known."

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