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Askins funded lavish lifestyle
Comptrollers investigators call expenditures inapproriate
Askins w L
In a report released last week, the State Comptroller’s Division of Investigations concluded that former Upper Cumberland Development District Executive Director Wendy Askins used funds from the agency to maintain an extravagant style of living for herself and family members.Askins, who once reportedly called the “Living the Dream” project “one of the sweetest projects in the history of my career,” was named in the comptroller’s report numerous times for a plethora of inappropriate expenditures.The quarters Askins shared with her daughter at the “Living the Dream” home, originally intended to be an independent living facility for seniors, were apparently far more opulent than the rooms occupied by the handful of seniors who took up residence on the grounds of the publicly-funded residence.The comptroller’s report named numerous UCDD transactions that did not appear to serve a public or governmental purpose, and concluded that the volume and type of questionable transactions indicates that the UCDD board of directors was somewhat derelict in its duty to verify that all expenditures were appropriate, and that all employees were acting in the agency’s best interests.Investigators from the comptroller’s office pointed out a multitude of questionable transactions ordered by Askins which did not appear to be in the best interest of the agency or the project, and concluded that many of the expenditures served only to help support the lavish lifestyle she and some members of her family were enjoying at public expense.In the main area of the home, occupied only by the former director and her daughter, Askins reportedly paid more than $6,000 for steam showers for both women’s bathrooms, more than $1,500 for a double-sided fireplace in the home’s main living area, nearly $1,000 for a fireplace in her own master bedroom, and more than $7,000 for decorative fountains.More than $25,000 was spent to construct a curved staircase, which led to her daughter’s living area.According to the audit, Askins “paid herself at least $9,569 for used furniture and other personal property, and also paid family members for second-hand personal property,” telling investigators that “Some of the items were as good as new, so she believed it was proper to pay herself the original price.”Investigators also found that Askins and various family members received more than $24,000 from transactions she orchestrated with the development district.It was found that she used nearly $10,000 in district funds to purchase used furniture, televisions and exercise equipment from herself for use in the home, and more than $14,000 to buy used furniture and items from her immediate family.The cost of the incomplete project had risen to nearly $1.4 million in February.Investigators also concluded that Askins submitted a false reimbursement request for catering expenses related to a political campaign event, and received nearly $3,000 from UCDD to pay for the affair, which was not associated with the development district in any way.Askins also reimbursed herself $1,229 for personal expenses, such as fuel for her personal travel and her personal credit card fees.According to investigators, Askins spent $2,000 in UCDD funds to purchase a 3-D capable computer and $99 for 3-D glasses, incurred over $600 in costs for ring-back tones, premium texts and music downloads on her district cell phone, and deposited a donation made to the “Meals on Wheels” program into the “Living the Dream” account.UCDD funds were also found to have been used for “expensive meals, alcoholic beverages, and other luxury items that did not appear to further governmental or public purposes,” the report said.At its 2010 meeting, the agency spent more than $6,000 at a nearby winery to feed and entertain board members and guests.Investigators concluded that the momentous amount of waste and misuse of funds was possible because Askins and her deputy director had free reign to spend public funds in most any way they saw fit, and that the UCDD board did not provide sufficient supervision in allowing the spree to continue.“Even though the board may not be directly to blame for such rampant misuses of public funds,” said Assistant Director of Investigations for the Comptroller’s office L. Rene Brison, “it was inherent in their fiduciary responsibilities to supervise Wendy Askins, the Living the Dream project, and to ensure that all development district funds were spent entirely for the benefit of those who are served by the district.” “These types of abuses of the public trust are likely to outrage many citizens who live within the Upper Cumberland Development District boundaries – and rightfully so,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said.“Every public dollar that’s spent for the personal benefit of a government official is one less dollar that can be spent to benefit the people who need government services. I hope and trust that the Upper Cumberland Development District will put safeguards in place to guard against this type of waste and abuse in the future.”