Buncombe County files equestrian center lawsuit against Ellen Frost, Wanda Greene
Buncombe County officials acknowledged Friday the use of $577,000 in public funding to pay for equestrian sponsorships and advertisements under former manager Wanda Greene's tenure.
ASHEVILLE - Buncombe County has filed a lawsuit against former Commissioner Ellen Frost and former county manager Wanda Greene to "recover the moneys that were expended in connection with the World Equestrian Center."
The county's outside attorney, Ron Payne, shared the news at the Board of Commissioners Dec. 17 meeting after speaking with the board in closed session for just over 10 minutes.
The lawsuit, filed in Buncombe County Superior Court Nov. 26, echoes allegations levied against Frost in a July 16 federal indictment. Greene was named as Frost's co-conspirator in the document but not charged. The longtime Buncombe County manager is already serving a sentence of seven years at a federal medical prison in Texas, FMC Carswell after pleading guilty earlier this year to corruption charges.
Frost, who is charged with conspiracy, federal program fraud and mail fraud, pleaded not guilty and requested a jury trial. Her case is set to return to court in February.
Federal prosecutors said she and Greene misapplied more than $575,000 in taxpayer money, using Buncombe economic development incentive funds to support various equestrian enterprises, including at the Tryon International Equestrian Center and its Florida affiliate.
Prosecutors also cited out-of-state trips that Frost and Greene took, as well as several dinners funded by the county for area business leaders and Mark Bellissimo, owner of the equestrian centers.
Buncombe seeks $593,000
The lawsuit reiterates the prosecutor's allegations. In the court filing, the county says the Buncombe Board of Commissioners never voted on various payments made by Frost and Greene and that the pair concealed their "conspiracy and scheme," which was "contrary to the county's interests and wholly inconsistent with the duties that Greene and Frost owed the county."
Buncombe is seeking to recover all money that it believes was spent improperly. It has calculated the amount as at least $593,000. The county's outside attorneys requested a trial by jury.
Frost's attorney in the civil case, Amanda Mingo, responded to the lawsuit in an email to the Citizen Times.
"The allegations against Ellen in the civil complaint mirror the facts alleged in the federal indictment," Mingo wrote. "Ellen has pled not guilty and we have asserted that she did not intentionally misappropriate county funds. Our position remains unchanged."
Noell Tin, one of the attorneys who represents Greene, declined to comment.
The county's previous lawsuits
Frost's July indictment made her the sixth person to face charges in connection to an ongoing federal investigation into Buncombe corruption that began in 2017. She is the only person charged who has held elected office, having served as a county commissioner from 2013-18.
In addition to Wanda Greene, the federal cases have netted guilty pleas from former county officials Mandy Stone, Jon Creighton and Michael Greene as well as longtime Buncombe engineering contractor Joe Wiseman. The four also are doing time in federal prison.
More on the Buncombe County investigation:
- Brownie Newman says he requested the investigation into Wanda Greene. Tim Flora disputes the claim.
- After corruption allegation, former commissioner's name stripped from Buncombe County building
- 'Horrific abuse of office': Wanda Greene gets 7 years for wide-ranging corruption
The lawsuit filed in November marks the county's third against Wanda Greene in response to the federal cases. Buncombe first filed suit against Greene and her son in June 2018. It filed a separate suit against Greene, Wiseman, Stone and Creighton the following August.
The county reached a $150,000 settlement with Wiseman in November. At the time, he and his company, Environmental Infrastructure Consulting, were the lone holdouts in the suits filed by the county.
In settlements reached previously, Greene paid Buncombe $750,000, Creighton paid $189,000, Stone paid $171,000 and Michael Greene paid $40,000.