ASHEVILLE – More than four years after former Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene was indicted on embezzlement charges and nearly three years after she reported to federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas, she now is on the receiving end of another civil lawsuit from her former employers.
Buncombe County filed a complaint July 6 against 71-year-old Greene, her son, Michael Greene, 51, and daughter-in-law Celena Greene, claiming the three have colluded in fraudulent money transfers for years.
Greene is serving a five-year sentence after being convicted of two counts of federal program fraud, one count of making and subscribing a federal tax return and one count of receipt of kickbacks and bribes.
Michael Greene, once the county’s business intelligence manager, was sentenced to six months.
The complaint, filed by Asheville-based Van Winkle Law Firm attorneys Ronald Payne and Philip Anderson, is directly connected to another civil lawsuit Buncombe brought against Wanda Greene and former County Commissioner Ellen Frost in November 2019 for illicit payments to the Tryon International Equestrian Center and related organizations.
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That case — called the “Equestrian Lawsuit” in the July 6 lawsuit — was a successful one for Buncombe.
A judge in November 2021 entered a default judgment against Greene in the equestrian case, ordering her to pay the county more than $419,000 plus interest.
The equestrian civil suit was the second filed against Greene following her indictment. The first was related to the federal investigation’s findings that, for years, Greene awarded public contracts in exchange for kickbacks, bribes, gifts and favors. The county sued Greene in August 2018 for this “kickback scheme” and Greene in January 2019 paid the county $750,000 for the dismissal of the claims against her, the lawsuit states.
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He kickback lawsuit, but not the equestrian case, where she was obliged to pay the more than $419,000.
But Greene “failed and refused” to do that, according to the July 6 lawsuit.
Moreover, it alleges, Greene has been transferring money to Michael and Celena Greene in various ways for about five years: depositing checks into their accounts, paying off a mortgage loan for their Arden home, and turning funds on deposit in her Charlotte attorneys’ trust account into checks for her son.
Michael and Celena Greene also used their status as Wanda Greene’s power of attorney to transfer funds from her accounts to theirs.
When asked by phone if he wanted to comment on the lawsuit, Michael Greene said “You’re welcome to contact my lawyer,” and hung up.
The lawsuit lists numerous money transfers, moving funds out of Wanda Greene’s possession and into her son’s and daughter-in-law’s.
“The defendants concealed all the transfers,” it states, noting these and other transfers have been happening since 2017, the year Greene resigned as county manager and a federal investigation commenced.
She did not receive “equivalent value” back for all the transfers.
Greene also has been insolvent since 2017, the lawsuit states, meaning she has been unable to pay her debts.
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“Upon information and belief,” the July 6 lawsuit states, “at the time of each of the transfers, Wanda Greene had removed and concealed assets. Wanda Greene did not make, and Michael Greene and Celena Greene did not take or accept, the transfers in good faith.”
The suit alleged, however, that all the transfers were voluntary.
Now the county is entitled to tens of thousands of dollars in relief, the July 6 complaint states.
It’s also demanding Greene pay the county’s attorney fees.
Greene’s attorneys Aug. 5 filed a motion for a 30-day extension, which was granted.
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Since the complaint was filed, the two other defendants’ standing has deteriorated: Michael and Celena Greene did not respond to the initial complaint within an appropriate time frame.
Buncombe’s attorneys therefore filed for entry of default against them Aug. 16.
If default judgment were to be granted against the two, the ruling could quickly favor plaintiffs because some defendants did not respond.
Wanda Greene, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in recent years, is currently serving her sentence at Residential Reentry Management Raleigh in Granville County.
Her release date is March 3, 2023.
Andrew Jones is Buncombe County government and health care reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at @arjonesreports on Facebook and Twitter, 828-226-6203 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.