Former Buncombe County Commissioner indicted

Published 10:50 pm Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Federal court charges Ellen Frost in fraud involving TIEC

ASHEVILLE—A former Buncombe County Commissioner was indicted in federal court Tuesday for what federal officials are calling a scheme involving the Tryon International Equestrian Center and the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. 

Ellen Madans Frost, 64, of Asheville, was charged with conspiracy to commit federal program fraud, federal program fraud and mail fraud, according to the federal indictments. Frost is accused of conspiring with former Buncombe County Manager Wanda Skillington Greene to defraud the county of more than $575,000 by misapplying funds allocated to the county’s economic development program. 

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The indictment says that Frost is a horse owner and boards horses in Polk County. The indictment alleges that Frost had a personal interest in supporting equestrian venues including TIEC and the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, located in Wellington, Florida. 

According to a release from United States Attorney Andrew Murray with the Western District of North Carolina, the equestrian enterprises were unaware of the criminal nature of the scheme, including the lack of authorization for Frost and Greene to enter into these negotiations and agreements without the knowledge and approval of the board of commissioners, which is required by state law. 

Greene and Frost used county funds without the board of commissioners’ knowledge or approval for sponsorships and advertising for equestrian events and to promote the Asheville Regional Airport. 

The indictment alleges that the county’s sponsorship contracts guaranteed access to amenities at the two equestrian venues exclusive to high-level sponsors. 

“Specifically, the Tryon Center contract included access to a ‘Members Only’ VIP area known as the Legends Club, ‘one premium location VIP pavilion table,’ a ‘full spread buffet, and a premium selection of liquor, beer and win,’ and premium VIP parking,” the release states. 

Frost and Greene are alleged to attend dinners and use their own funds to pay the dinners and get reimbursement from the county. Two dinners at Asheville-area hotels totaled $5,878. In addition to the dinners that were reimbursed, Greene and Frost took at least two county-funded trips related to equestrian events. One was to Wellington, Florida to attend the Winter Equestrian Festival and another was to Saratoga Springs, N.Y., which the two took to visit the equine quarantine facility and to explore the possibility of establishing such a facility near the Asheville airport. 

“As the indictment alleges, Greene and Frost never visited the facility in Newburgh during the trip,” states the federal release. “Instead, the pair attended horse races and visited a large private far where a horse once owned by Frost was stabled. The total cost of the two trips was $8,842.”

A federal summons for Frost was issued. 

The federal program fraud conspiracy charge is up to five years in prison, the federal program charge is a maximum of 10 years in prison and the mail fraud charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. 

Greene pleaded guilty to public corruption and other charges for unrelated schemes involving the misuse of county funding and is currently awaiting sentencing.