Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

October 11, 2013

Askins facing state charges in UCDD scandal

By Gary Nelson
Senior staffwriter

CROSSVILLE — The former executive director of the Upper Cumberland Development District is facing additional charges after the Putnam County Grand Jury issued indictments on theft, money laundering and forgery Tuesday.

Wendy Askins, 52, of Cookeville, is also facing federal indictments in connection with allegations she took money from the quasi-governmental agency serving the 14-county Upper Cumberland region to use toward Living the Dream.

The Putnam County Grand Jury issued indictments of one count theft more than $60,000, one count money laundering and one count forgery.

While employed as the executive director of UCDD, the indictment states Askins inserted a paragraph into the minutes of the Feb. 16, 2010, board meeting that stated $300,000 was to be transferred to the Cumberland Regional Development District to be used for an independent living home, Living the Dream. An investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation found the transfer was never discussed at the meeting.

Living the Dream's state purpose was to provide an independent living environment to middle income seniors in the area. Although Askins has a residence in Putnam County, she and her daughter used the Living the Dream home as their primary residence.

Askins is facing federal charges of conspiring to commit various federal offenses, six counts of theft and conversion of government property in excess of $1,000, four counts of bank fraud, three counts money laundering and a single count of concealing a material fact.

Also charged in the federal indictment was former deputy executive director Larry Gene Webb, 64, with the same charges as Askins, and DeKalb County Mayor Billy Michael Foster, 66, charged with one count of making fraudulent statements.

An audit completed in 2012 found taxpayer dollars were used to support a lavish lifestyle for Askins at Living the Dream, with numerous transactions noted that did not appear to serve a public or governmental purpose. According to the audit, Askins personally selected tens of thousands of dollars in upgrades to the main area of the home, which she and her daughter, Anna Askins, occupied by themselves. These living quarters were much more luxurious than the quarters provided to the handful of seniors that lived at the facility. Among the upgrades was more than $6,000 for steam showers for both Askins and her daughter's bathrooms, more than $1,500 for a double-sided fireplace in the home's main living area and nearly $1,000 for a fireplace in her own master bedroom. Decorative fountains were purchased at a cost of more than $7,000 and more than $25,000 was spent on a curved staircase which led to her daughter's upstairs living area in the home. Both Askins and her daughter lived in the main living quarters and paid no rent. Four seniors lived in an attached residential wing.

The audit discovered Askins paid herself at least $9,569 for her own personal property, including furniture, a television and exercise equipment to be used at Living the Dream. Although the property was not new, Askins paid herself the same amount paid for the items when new. Askins told investigators that some of the items were "as good as new," so she believed it was proper to pay herself the original price.

Askins turned herself in to the Putnam County Jail Tuesday and was released on a $25,000 bond. She is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 12.

Askins was employed as the executive director of UCDD for 17 years prior to being released from the position.