Ex-Buncombe Commissioner Pleads Guilty To Conspiracy Involving County Money
A former Buncombe County commissioner has pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge over her involvement in what federal prosecutors say was a scheme to use county money to sponsor horse activities in North Carolina and Florida.
Ellen Frost could face up to five years in prison. The former commissioner was released on bond, and a sentencing date hasn't been set. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of North Carolina accused Frost -- a commissioner from 2012-2018 -- of conspiring with former Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene by "misapplying funds" from Buncombe's economic development program to support horse events at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Polk County and the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, Florida.
Prosecutors said Frost and Greene "developed a scheme to enter into sponsorship and advertising contracts" with the horse venues but that the businesses "were unaware of the criminal nature of the scheme." The negotiations were done without approval from the full board of commissioners, which is against the law in North Carolina.
The U.S. Attorney's Office also says Greene and Frost tried to cover up the use of unauthorized sponsorship and advertising contracts by using the funds to promote the Asheville Regional Airport, which is independent and not funded by the county. Even though Buncombe County money was funding events, advertising instead used the airport's name and logo.
Court documents showed Bumcombe's sponsorship contracts guaranteed amenities typically reserved for high-level sponsors, such as a "member's only VIP table" at the Tryon center that Frost used several times during the 2015 and 2016 seasons, bringing friends along.
A federal investigation into Greene's tenure as Buncombe County manager began after she retired in 2017.
Greene was sentenced to seven years in federal prison in 2019 after pleading guilty to several fraud and corruption charges. Several others were also given various federal sentences after the investigation, including two former assistant county managers, a contractor and Greene's son, a former county employee.