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Former UCDD Boss Pleads Guilty To Federal Charges

Scandal Sparked By NewsChannel 5 Investigation
Posted at 7:05 PM, Aug 30, 2016

She was once living the dream, but now Wendy Askins is a convicted felon.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the former head of the Upper Cumberland Development District in Cookeville pleaded guilty to federal theft charges.

It all stems from an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation.

With her daughter at her side, Wendy Askins entered federal court facing the possibility of decades in prison.

Under a deal with federal prosecutors, Askins will receive a sentence of 18 months behind bars.

"It think it's going to be tough obviously to be away from home and to be away from her daughter," said her attorney, Peter Strianse. "This has obviously taken a huge toll on her, physically, emotionally, mentally."

For years, Askins headed an agency that was supposed to create jobs and help the poor in a 14-county region.

At the center of the case was this million-dollar home in rural Putnam County -- a home she called "Living the Dream."

What was supposed to be a home for needy seniors also became Askins' home. Her family Christmas portrait was made there. So was her daughter's graduation photo.

And the estate also became home to the family's horses.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Askins back in 2012, "Were you trying to build your own dream house?"

"Absolutely not," she insisted.

After we began asking questions, Askins gave us a bogus set of minutes claiming that the UCDD board had approved $300,000 in seed money for the project.

Then, she convinced the board to retroactively approve that very same set of minutes.

"That's what you have to talk to our board about," Askins told us at the time.

"You are the one who gave it to us," we noted.

"I really didn't," she replied. "I have not made any copies of any documents for you. Someone else has made those copies."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "So you are saying you have no responsibility for giving us bogus minutes?"

"Well," she answered, "they weren't actually bogus. It was a mistake."

As a result of those questions, Askins was eventually forced to resign.

In addition to the federal charges, she was also indicted on state charges.

Her attorney says he's also worked out a deal on those counts.

"To get some closure to both of these case, I think is what she is looking for -- a way to get this behind her," Strianse said.

The attorney said that Askins will plead guilty to the state charges later this fall, receiving an eight-year sentence -- only one year of that will be served behind bars and it will be served at the same time as the federal sentence.

The Upper Cumberland Development District was eventually able to sell the house and recover most of the money.

Still, Askins will be forced to pay back $233,000 to taxpayers.