DOJ: Askins used “Living the Dream” project for personal gain
UPPER CUMBERLAND – Wendy Askins, 55, the embroiled former executive director of the Upper Cumberland Development District, pleaded guilty Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Aleta A. Trauger to two counts of theft from a federally-funded entity
At the time of the offenses, Askins had served as UCDD’s director for 17 years and also oversaw the daily operations of the Cumberland Regional Development Corporation (CRDC) and the Cumberland Area Investment Corporation (CAIC). UCDD and its related organizations received thousands of dollars annually in federal funds during the time Askins led their efforts.
During the plea hearing, Askins admitted she used UCDD and CRDC funds to purchase a property she named “Living the Dream,” which was supposed to serve as an assisted living facility for senior citizens. Shortly after purchasing the home, Askins and UCDD Deputy Director Larry Webb set up a company called L.A. Management to operate the senior facility; Askins subsequently converted a portion of the property that was owned by the public agency into a home for her daughter and herself. Her upgrades to the property included adding elaborate, luxury showers in the bathrooms used by the Askins; wiring another bedroom to service a tanning bed, and spending an additional $25,000 to erect a double-winding staircase.
Askins admitted she moved money belonging to UCDD and its components to Living the Dream bank accounts, without the approval of the boards of directors. Askins attempted to hide the unauthorized transfer of other UCDD funds by directing an employee to falsify the minutes of a board of director’s meeting, in order to conceal the fact that she had spent a total of $233,000 without board approval. She also admitted that she lied to the media, board directors and UCDD attorneys about why the meeting minutes were incorrect.
Askins was placed on administrative leave in February 2012; she subsequently resigned her post that March.
Askins will be sentenced Oct. 28. Federal program fraud carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and up to three years of supervised release following a term of imprisonment.
Webb, a co-defendant, pleaded guilty to bank fraud in August 2015 and is currently scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 19.