UCDD Lawyer: $900,000 At Risk In Living the Dream - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NewsChannel 5 Investigates: UCDD

UCDD Lawyer: $900,000 At Risk In Living the Dream

Posted: Updated: March 29, 2012 06:30 PM

By Phil Williams
Chief Investigative Reporter

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- A lawyer for the Upper Cumberland Development District had some bad news Thursday for the board that oversees the Cookeville-based agency.

Bob Walker told them the agency's got a lot more money tied up in that extravagant Living the Dream facility than most of them ever knew. He broke the news as he delivered the findings on an internal investigation ordered by the board.

Longtime UCDD executive director Wendy Askins resigned last week, and the board was told Thursday that her longtime deputy, Larry Webb, had also resigned.

The question now: how much damage was done to the agency?

"So if you just went to a fire sale with it in the morning, you might lose all of this," attorney Bob Walker said, pointing to the a number displayed on a screen.

The Nashville lawyer told board members that their former executive director and her deputy moved $900,000 into Living the Dream -- most of it without board approval.

That's on top of a $750,000 bank loan for the project.

Walker presented a chart showing how the money was shuffled around so that board members did not really know what was going on.

Click here to see slides from lawyer's presentation

The lawyer cautioned that, if the project goes under, the property would go to the bank -- potentially leaving the agency itself high and dry.

Board members expressed their frustration.

"I wonder how much were we told truth and how much were we not told truth," said Smith County Mayor Michael Nesbitt. "It's kind of alarming to me, as a board member, all the things that went on behind the scenes that we did not know about."

The lawyer recommended that a non-profit board that's now overseeing Living the Dream try to get it up and running as a boarding home for needy seniors to keep from losing the money.

To keep track of spending, he also suggested that UCDD needed an audit committee and a finance director who reports to the board.

He also urged the board to take a hard look at its controls over travel and reimbursements, as well as its rules against nepotism.

In addition, Walker admonished the board itself, saying that its members had less than 50 percent attendance in 2011 -- the time when a lot of this wild spending was going on.

Still, there are some positive signs.

The agency's acting director presented a report saying that, as a result of changes made following our investigation, the agency is already on track to save almost $600,000 a year.

E-mail: pwilliams@newschannel5.com

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