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Ex-county leader spent public money on wine, makeup, Target gift cards, charges say

The former county manager of Buncombe County, home of Asheville, and her son were indicted on charges that claim they misused $200,000 in public money. A criminal investigation continues, a federal prosecutor said.
The former county manager of Buncombe County, home of Asheville, and her son were indicted on charges that claim they misused $200,000 in public money. A criminal investigation continues, a federal prosecutor said.

A federal grand jury in Asheville has indicted the former county manager of Buncombe County, home of Western North Carolina's largest city, and her son on charges related to the misuse of about $200,000 in public money.

Wanda Greene, 66, and her son Michael Greene, 47, were charged with conspiracy to embezzle, steal, obtain by fraud or misapply county funds and wire fraud in a 56-count indictment, U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray's office announced Thursday. Wanda Greene was also charged with embezzling public funds and aiding and abetting embezzlement.

Greene had served as county manager for 20 years until retiring last June. Federal authorities began a criminal investigation of her and others weeks later, Asheville's Citizen Times has reported.

Buncombe commissioners denounced many of the expenditures and made policy changes, the Citizen Times reported last month. TheNorth Carolina City and County Management Association said "if the allegations against Ms. Greene are true, we condemn her behavior in the strongest way possible."

Michael Greene also worked for the county, as an information systems security officer, from 2004 until he resigned last August. Both now face potential prison sentences and large fines, Murray's office said.

Murray "noted that the investigation into allegations of criminal activities within the Buncombe County Government is ongoing," his office said in a statement.

Between 2007 and last August, the indictment says, the Greenes misused their county-issued credit cards, and those of other county employees, to make about $200,000 in improper purchases.

Wanda Greene used the credit cards to buy $21,000 in gift cards from businesses including Walmart, Target, Olive Garden and Cracker Barrel, it says. She used the gift cards for herself and others, including groceries, wine and makeup, and gave some gift cards to others.

Wanda Greene also made direct purchases with county cards, the indictment says, spending more than $18,000 at Best Buy, $10,000 at Target and $6,000 at TJ Maxx. She spent more than $15,000 for electronic devices and telecommunications services, it says.

In 2011, Wanda Greene stopped using her own county cards because, the indictment charges, records of their use could be released to the public. She then began using cards issued to other county employees or directed employees to make purchases for her, her son and others, racking up more than $75,000 in gift cards, $24,000 in wireless devices and services and more than $18,000 in retail purchases, it says.

Michael Green used his county credit card to pay for more than $9,000 for food, wireless services and goods, the indictment says. His card privileges were revoked following a 2009 county audit.

The conspiracy charge that both face carries a maximum prison term of five years and a $250,000 fine. The 50 counts of wire fraud they're both charged with carry up to 20 years in prison per count and a $250,000 fine.

The five counts of embezzlement charge against Wanda Greene carry up to 10 years in prison per count and a $250,000 fine.

Buncombe County commissioners, Democrat Ellen Frost and Republican Mike Fryar, have said they got hostile receptions for questioning county spending under Greene.

"If we questioned anything, no matter who it was, we were vilified," Frost told Asheville's WLOS. "And then to compound that, the manager told people that we were crazy, and not to work with us. So we were pretty isolated."

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051; @bhender
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