Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: Did former Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene lose her pension, or have to pay back money stolen and court costs out of her pension? If she still gets one, how much per month? How about the other county employees who were convicted?
My answer: I’m going to find the person who first said, “Crime doesn’t pay,” and give them a big ol’ Will-Smith-at-the-Oscars slap.
Real answer: We’ll get to the dough in a second — and Greene and her fellow coworkers still do collect hefty pensions — but first let’s review what happened.
Greene was sentenced in August 2019 to 84 months in prison, plus one year of supervised release, and she was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. But she was released from federal prison in January 2022, after spending 27 months in either federal or county lockups.
Greene admitted to schemes that included using county purchasing cards for personal benefit, buying county-funded life insurance policies for herself and other employees (Greene cashed hers in for nearly $400,000), and for taking trips, meals, and entertainment from a contractor with the understanding his companies would receive county contracts.
Greene, who was earning about $250,000 annually before her 2017 retirement, pleaded guilty to embezzling public funds and aiding and abetting such embezzlement, federal program fraud, making a false federal tax return, and receipt of bribes and kickbacks and aiding and abetting.
Because of a reduced sentence for cooperation, reduced time for good behavior, and a federal program designed to remove nonviolent offenders from federal prisons during the pandemic, Greene was able to leave prison early. She now lives in a subdivision in southern Buncombe County.
While she has been out, Greene has had to report to an office in Gastonia weekly that handles released federal prisoners’ cases. That required her to call a Bureau of Prisons official every morning and night from her home landline phone, and she had to have permission to drive places.
That federal custody officially ended Jan. 10 of this year. Now, Greene has one year of probation to complete.
The county corruption case also resulted in Greene’s son, former county employee Michael Greene, receiving a six-month federal sentence. Former Buncombe County Assistant County Manager Jon Creighton, former assistant and then County Manager Mandy Stone, and a county contractor, Joe Wiseman, also pleaded guilty as part of the scheme and received federal time.
On the pension front, Greene did lose some of it, but she’s still doing all right.
The North Carolina Office of the State Treasurer administers the pension program, and State Treasurer Dale Folwell made it clear to me in an interview that, “Nobody gets more chapped” about public servant felons retaining pensions than he does.
So, here’s the lowdown on Greene’s pension status, according to the Treasurer’s office: Greene retired July 1, 2017. Her monthly retirement benefit, prior to any deductions (such as for taxes), was $14,755 for each month from July through October 2017, and $13,985 for the months of November 2017 through April 2019. As of February 2023, she receives $7,898 a month.
Creighton retired Jan. 1, 2018. His monthly retirement benefit, prior to any deductions, was $13,837 for the months of January through April 2018, and $13,724 for the months of May through December 2018. As of February 2023, it is $9,507.
Stone retired July 1, 2018. Her monthly retirement benefit, prior to any deductions, was $12,454 for the months of July 2018 through January 2019. As of February 2023, it is $8,791.
Michael Greene is a member of the Local Governmental Employees’ Retirement System, but he has not been issued any monthly retirement benefits, the Treasurer’s office said.
In cases like Wanda Greene’s, where “there’s a pattern of this misconduct going along, and the prosecutors determine it occurred during this period of time, then we go in and remove their pension credit,” Folwell said.
“Does that mean we stop them from getting a pension?” Folwell said. “The answer is no, because the law does not allow us to do that. The law allows them to get the benefit that they were vested in before their offenses began.”
In a nutshell, the state can take away some years of service that accrue toward an employee’s retirement total.
“If you have somebody that has 30 years of service, and they committed a crime over an eight- year period of time, then all the sudden they don’t have the years of service necessary to get full retirement,” Folwell said. “So there is a penalty there. And chances are they could never get another job in the system in North Carolina.”
He used an example of someone who was making $100,000 a year, had 30 years of service and retired. Under the pension plan, that person would have gotten a $54,000 annual pension.
But if that same person was convicted of wrongdoing that spanned 10 years, they would lose about 30% of their pension, meaning it would drop to $36,000.
The state cannot take away the person’s own portion of contributions, however. Those continue to accrue, with 4 percent interest.
North Carolina, Folwell contends, has some of the strictest felony forfeiture laws in the country. He also noted that a bill just passed the legislature that says, “If a judge wants a person not to be subject to felony forfeiture, a judge has to put that in their order,” Folwell said.
As far as paying back Buncombe County, Greene repaid Buncombe County $750,000 through a January 2019 settlement agreement. Greene previously told Asheville Watchdog she had to sell her house and tap into retirement accounts to manage that payment.
In all, to settle with the county, the IRS, and to pay legal fees, Greene said she’s paid out close to $1.5 million.
“Frankly, it’s taken just about everything I’d saved,” Greene said previously.
Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at email@example.com or 828-337-0941.
Crime pays very well. Maybe karma will truly have a harsh awakening for these thieves. That is the only hope one can have in this corrupt county and city.
the fact that she will collect a pension of that amount will piss me off everyday for the rest of my life!!! crime does pay.
Greene says she has repaid $1.5 million. I haven’t been able to find any reason to believe her.
Do I have this right? — Retired state legislators and governors can still get a portion of their retirement even if they break the law, and they or their predecessors are the ones who wrote the law that allows that? Sound like something out of “Animal Farm”. Are there any exceptions?
Yes, that really makes me quite upset. Not only did she steal from taxpayers but she is now living quite a nice life on taxpayer money,s I imagine.
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