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Former Buncombe County Commissioner pleads guilty

Frost pleads to using county funds for equestrian activities in Polk and Florida

ASHEVILLLE—Former Buncombe County Commissioner Ellen Madans Frost, 65, of Black Mountain pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit federal program fraud in federal court in Asheville Monday.

Frost’s charge stemmed from her involvement in a scheme to use Buncombe County funding to sponsor equestrian activities in North Carolina and Florida, specifically including the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring.

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina Andrew Murray made the announcement Monday.

Beginning in early 2014 through November 2017, Frost conspired with former Buncombe County Manager Wanda Skillington Greene to defraud the county by misapplying funds allocated to the county’s economic development program to support various equestrian enterprises, including TIEC and its affiliate, the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, Florida, according to court documents.

Court documents say that Frost began to speak with Greene in 2014 about her desire to support TIEC on behalf of the county. Frost and Greene then developed a scheme to enter into sponsorship and advertising contracts with TIEC and the Palm Beach center.

Both equestrian centers were unaware of the criminal nature of the scheme, including the lack of authorization for Frost and Greene to enter into the negotiations and agreements without the knowledge and approval from the board of commissioners, which is required by state law.

Greene and Frost took steps to cover the fraudulent scheme, according to court documents, by using the funds to promote the Asheville Regional Airport. The signs would bear the logo of the airport, even though Buncombe County was the paying sponsor.

The county’s sponsorship contracts guaranteed access to amenities at the 2 equestrian centers specifically at TIEC. It granted access to a “members only” VIP table at the Legends Club.

Frost repeatedly used the VIP table and invited friends and guests to attend events there.

Following Greene’s retirement in 2017, county employees discovered the county’s payments to the equestrian centers.

Following the plea hearing Monday, Frost was released on bond. The federal program fraud conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison. A sentencing hearing for Frost has not yet been set.