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Contractor in Buncombe County scandal pleads guilty

Joseph F. Wiseman Jr., a contractor whose dealings with Buncombe County led to the indictment of three top county officials, pleaded guilty on Thursday to a conspiracy charge for his role in a bribery scheme.

Wiseman, 58, of Roswell, Georgia, was the agent and contractor on behalf of three businesses that collectively obtained more than $15 million in contracts with Buncombe County for consulting and engineering services from the mid 1980s through 2017, U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray said.

John A. Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Charlotte Division; Director Robert Schurmeier of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI); and Matthew D. Line, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division, Charlotte Field Office (IRS-CI), join Murray in making today’s announcement.

Court records show that from at least 2014 through June 30, 2018, Wiseman engaged in a bribery scheme involving three top Buncombe County Officials: former County Manager Wanda Skillington Greene; former Director of the Department of Planning and Development Jon Eugene Creighton; and former Director of the Department of Social Services, Assistant County Manager, and later Buncombe County Manager, Amanda Stone (collectively, “County Officials”).
According to court documents, the plea agreement, and statements made in court, Greene, Creighton, and Stone engaged in the bribery scheme with Wiseman and used their official positions to enrich and benefit themselves by soliciting and accepting gifts, payments, and other things of value from Wiseman, in exchange for awarding Wiseman and the companies he represented with lucrative county contracts and projects. Court records show that Wiseman understood and agreed that providing the trips, gifts, and other things of value to the three County Officials was a necessary condition for his companies to continue to obtain contracts with the County.
According to court records, prior to 2014, Greene, Creighton, and Stone went on trips that were connected in some way with legitimate county business, but during which Wiseman provided things of value such as meals, wine, tickets to sporting events, and other excursions. By 2014, the County Officials solicited and accepted valuable gifts from Wiseman that were entirely unrelated to any legitimate County business. For example, Wiseman paid for pleasure trips to various locations within the United States and abroad, including to Key West, Boston, Martha’s Vineyard, Napa Valley, San Diego, Vienna, Budapest, Cartagena, and Vancouver, among others. In addition to lodging and airfare, during those trips Wiseman also paid for sightseeing excursions, spa sessions, and gift shop purchases, such as cases of wine from the Napa Valley vineyards that the County Officials visited. To pay for the trips and other incidentals, Wiseman either provided the County Officials with his credit card number, or, as in Creighton’s case, the credit card itself.
As a result of receiving the above-cited things of value, Greene and Creighton awarded on behalf of Buncombe County multiple contracts worth over $2 million to Wiseman’s company, Environmental Infrastructure Consulting, LLC (EIC). According to the filed factual basis statement to which Wiseman agreed during the entry of his guilty plea, Wiseman contends that the expenses he incurred by providing these trips, gifts, and other things of value to the County Officials came out of what otherwise would have been part of the his own profit, rather than from any type of “padding” or inflating of the contract amounts. However, Wiseman did agree that he provided the valuable gifts for the purpose of influencing Greene, Creighton, and Stone’s decision to award the contracts, and, in doing so, Wiseman conspired with the County Officials to deprive the Government and the citizens of Buncombe County of their right to the honest services of those employees.
Wiseman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit honest services fraud before U.S. Magistrate Judge Carleton Metcalf. The maximum penalty for the charge is five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. A sentencing date has not been set.