On Tuesday, a federal grand jury announced an 11-count indictment against former Buncombe County commissioner Ellen Frost. She's accused - alongside former county manager Wanda Greene - of using more than $575-thousand in funds from the county's Economic Development Incentive Fund for personal activities. Prosecutors allege that Frost and Greene attempted to coverup the expenditures by claiming the funds were used to advertise the Asheville Regional Airport at equestrian events in North Carolina and Florida.
The expenditures were done without the knowledge of the full board of county commissioners according to prosecutors. The indictment (READ THE FULL INDICTMENT HERE) cites two stories from the Asheville Citizen-Times as first bringing the spending to public light. Reporter Jennifer Bowman wrote one of them, and she joined BPR's Matt Bush to discuss the details of the indictment, the first handed down since Wanda Greene plead guilty to earlier charges and agreed to co-operate with prosecutors.
Frost, a Democrat, was first elected in 2012 and then re-elected in 2014. She declined to run in 2018, and left office at the end of the year. She along with Greene (who while named as a co-conspirator in the latest indictment was not charged) are accused of spending the money to promote and support events at the Tryon Equestrian Center in Polk County, North Carolina, and the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, Florida. Frost owns horses, and stables some at a farm near the Tryon Center, where some of her horses were shown according to the indictment.
In 2014, prosecutors say Frost began to speak with Greene about her desire to have the county 'somehow help' with project. Eventually, sponsorship deals were made with both facilities, though all signage featured the Asheville Regional Airport and not Buncombe County. The airport is not owned, operated, or funded by Buncombe County.
In one example, a sponsorship agreement included a VIP pavilion table at the Tryon Center during the 2015 and 2016 Horse Show Series at the facility. Access to this VIP table - which included "a full spread buffet, and a premium selection of liquor, beer, and wine" - was limited to persons approved by the sponsor and placed on an admissions list. Even though it was identified as the Asheville Regional Airport table, it was Frost according to prosecutors whom people had to obtain permission from to get their name on the list. Among those she did invite to the table during the 2015 and 2016 seasons were the owners of the Polk County farm where she stabled her horses according to the indictment.
In addition, prosecutors allege both Frost and Greene hosted two dinners for officials that Greene paid for but was later reimbursed by the county. The first took place at the Omni Grove Park Inn with officials from the Tryon Center, while the second took place at Grand Bohemian Hotel where the pair entertained representatives from the airport, breweries, banks, and developers.
The 11 charges Frost faces include five each of federal program fraud and mail fraud, and one count conspiracy to commit federal program fraud. The most serious charges have a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Greene already plead guilty to numerous charges after being indicted three separate times last year. She retired in 2017 after 20 years as county manager. She, her son Michael (also a former county employee), former assistant county managers Jon Creighton and Mandy Stone, and contractor Joseph Wiseman all await sentencing after guilty pleas into the wide-ranging federal investigation into county government.