Former Executive Director of Upper Cumberland Development District Pleads Guilty to Theft
Used “Living the Dream” Project for Personal Benefit
Wendy Askins, 55, of Red Boiling Springs, Tenn., pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge Aleta A. Trauger, to two counts of theft from a federally-funded entity, announced David Rivera, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee. At the time of the offenses, Askins was the Executive Director for the Upper Cumberland Development District (UCDD), 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 UCDD.
During the plea hearing, Askins admitted that she used UCDD and CRDC funds to purchase a property she named Living the Dream. Living the Dream 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 will be sentenced by Judge Trauger on October 28, 2016. 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.
Larry Webb, a co-defendant, pleaded guilty to bank fraud on August 17, 2015, and is currently scheduled to be sentenced on September 19, 2016.
The investigation was led by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Inspector General, with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Internal Revenue Service- Criminal Investigation; the Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General; and the U.S. Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General. The United States is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stephanie N. Toussaint and William F. Abely.