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NewsChannel 5 Investigates: UCDD

FBI Seizes Computer, Other Evidence From UCDD

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By Phil Williams
Chief Investigative Reporter

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- There's evidence that the FBI is intensifying its investigation into the Upper Cumberland Development District.

This follows the release of a scathing state audit of the Cookeville-based agency two weeks ago.

UCDD officials confirmed Friday that agents have been back in their offices within the past week, seizing a computer and taking other evidence related to the possible misuse of federal funds.

"The FBI has contacted us looking for copies of minutes, and they have spoken to a few employees," said UCDD executive director Mark Farley. "But other than that, they have not shed light on anything else with me."

The focus of the federal investigation appears to be on the million-dollar Living the Dream facility in rural Putnam County -- a facility that also became the home of former UCDD executive director Wendy Askins.

Askins' office gave NewsChannel 5 a bogus set of minutes to justify the transfer of $300,000 of agency funds to the project.

UCDD officials say agents have taken audio recordings from meetings of the agency board, as well as original copies of minutes from those meetings.

FBI agents have also interviewed a number of agency employees in recent months.

"Of course, anytime they have requested either information or to meet with any of the employees, certainly they are free to do that," Farley said.

"I would encourage them and I think they will fully cooperate with anything required of them."

In addition, the Knox County DA -- who's been appointed as a special prosecutor in case there are violations of state law -- released a statement, essentially refusing to comment.

"While the Knox County DA's Office has been appointed as District Attorney pro tem on matters that may arise involving the Upper Cumberland Development District, our policy is not comment or even confirm on going investigation in which we are involved," the statement said.

Still, multiple sources tell NewsChannel 5 Investigates that, at least for now, the feds appear to have the lead on this investigation.

As for Ms. Askins, her attorney Jack Lowery has said repeatedly that, while mistakes may have been made, he does not think that she or anyone else broke any laws.

Email: pwilliams@newschannel5.com

Related story:
State Audit Confirms Blatant Misspending Inside UCDD

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