Former UCDD Boss Asks Judge To Dismiss Charges

Posted at 6:40 PM, Apr 12, 2016

The woman at the center of the Cookeville's "Living the Dream" scandal took the stand Tuesday in a Putnam County courtroom.

Wendy Askins faces charges for abusing her position as the head of the Upper Cumberland Development District -- charges that she now wants a judge to dismiss.

Askins' testimony came on a day that she had been slated to go on trial on state charges stemming from an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation.

But a recently discovered audio recording had her attorney arguing that her rights have been violated.

"I was convinced that those were attorney-client communications," Peter Strianse argued before Circuit Judge David Patterson about the recording.

It was the first public appearance for Askins since the scandal involving the Upper Cumberland Development District broke more than four years ago.

More than a million dollars of agency money went into a sprawling horse farm and a house that she called "Living the Dream." What was supposed to become a home for needy seniors also become Askins' home, even becoming the backdrop for family photos.

"When I took the position the board was adamant that we have a law firm that would represent us," Askins testified.

At issue was a 2012 recording between Askins and UCDD lawyers, who were brought in after NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered evidence that agency records had been altered or destroyed.

Prosecutor Michael Meyer challenged Askins about the purpose of her meeting with the agency lawyers.

"Channel 5 was raising questions that you were not fully complying. Is that correct?" Meyer demanded.

Askins acknowledged, "That's correct."

"There were allegations that records were being withheld."

"That's correct."

Strianse argued that his client thought the agency's attorneys were also acting as her lawyers -- and that prosecutors had no business getting a recording of a meeting between Askins and those attorneys.

But agency lawyers Dan Rader and his son, Danny Rader, said they become concerned after Askins' former deputy, Larry Webb, confirmed to them that she was destroying receipts that had been requested by NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

They testified their goal was to figure out what Askins was up to -- for the sake of the agency.

"I believe that the quote was 'if Wendy was clean as a whistle that was wonderful. But if not, everybody just needs to know -- and it just needs to be out in the open," the younger Rader testified.

With Askins facing charges of theft, money laundering and forgery, the question is: could her own words to the agency's lawyers be used as evidence against her?

Askins' lawyer argued that, if the judge doesn't dismiss the charges, the prosecutors who've heard the recording should be disqualified.

Judge Patterson is expected to rule in about a month, with a trial possibly this summer.

She also faces federal charges, as well.

That trial is set for September 6.