Following a closed session meeting Monday morning, Buncombe County commissioners announced manager Mandy Stone will retire on July 1st after just 11 months on the job. Her decision comes after a whirlwind of actions - and responses to those actions - following the announcement of further federal charges against her immediate predecessor Wanda Greene last Tuesday. Stone took over the position when Greene retired last June.
The new charges against Greene allege she fraudulently bought life insurance policies with county money for herself, her son Michael (then a Buncombe County employee), and eight other county employees. When she retired a year ago this month, prosecutors allege she cashed out two of those policies and received close to $400-thousand, almost half of which was wired to a Tennessee law firm for the purposes of a real estate closing. The indictment revealed last Tuesday stated Greene bought the policies without the knowledge of the county board of commissioners.
The day after those charges announced, a statement was put out by the county saying an unnamed employee had discussed those life insurance policies with then county board chair David Gantt, who vigorously denied the claims. On Friday, current board chair Brownie Newman named Mandy Stone as the unnamed employee mentioned in that press release, telling the Citizen-Times commissioners were unaware of the news release until it was sent out by county staff.
The county has announced a civil lawsuit against Wanda Greene and anyone who 'participated in or profited from' her alleged unlawful actions. A joint statement from county commissioners released Monday morning said an interim replacement for Stone will be picked at a meeting on Wednesday, and that that person will immediately assume the duties of the county manager.
In the new indictment, prosecutors allege Wanda Greene used $2.3 million in county money to purchase those life insurance policies as well as an annuity for the county emergency services director who was not eligible for a life insurance plan. The money for those policies according to the indictment came from a budget amendment county commissioners approved to pay for settlements for two federal civil rights lawsuits Buncombe County was facing. Though not mentioned in the indictment, the Citizen-Times reports those lawsuits were brought by two men convicted for the 2000 murder of Walter Bowman in his Fairview home. Robert Wilcoxson and Kenneth Kagonyera, both of Asheville, were exonerated in 2011 for that murder and had their convictions vacated by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. Prosecutors in the Greene case allege she inflated the amount needed to make those payments to Wilcoxson and Kagonyera, taking what was leftover to buy the insurance policies.
Greene and her son Michael were charged in April for allegedly misusing Buncombe County owned-credit cards to make personal purchases, for items such as food, DVD's, cell phone accessories, clothing and gift cards. Michael Greene left his job in county government shortly after his mother retired.