Davis officials rip Utah AG after no charges filed in sheriff's investigations

Friday , October 13, 2017 - 12:00 AM

MARK SHENEFELT, Standard-Examiner Staff

FARMINGTON — Prosecutors have declined to file charges after criminal investigations into alleged time card fraud and funds misuse in the Davis County Sheriff’s Office.

According to documents obtained with public records requests, the Utah Attorney General’s Office dropped its investigation into payroll irregularities by Sheriff Todd Richardson and a deputy, and the Rich County Attorney’s Office determined that reported misuse of public resources in a 2013 incident at Bear Lake was not criminal.

RELATED: Audits of Davis County Sheriff Office reveal time card fraud, $862 hotel stay

The investigations arose from audits performed by the Davis County Clerk-Auditor’s Office.

Davis County Commissioner Jim Smith and County Attorney Troy Rawlings said in separate interviews they were unhappy with the way the Attorney General’s Office finished its probe into the time card allegations.

The county audit concluded Richardson committed time card fraud in 2016 by allowing a deputy to take vacation days but report the hours as time worked. Auditors said Richardson was trying to sweeten the deputy’s benefits after failing to get county personnel officials to do so via greater vacation time accrual.

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In a June 28 letter to Rawlings, Spencer Austin, the attorney general’s chief criminal deputy, said of the time card matter, “... this case lacks a reasonable likelihood of conviction.”

“While there may have been a technical violation in the sheriff’s handling of the payroll issue, this issue has been addressed on an administrative level” by the county commission, Austin wrote. “... in so doing, it appears the commission ratified the sheriff’s actions.”

Smith said he called Austin to complain about the explanation for closing the case. Rather than supporting Richardson’s actions, the commission sharply reprimanded him in a March letter, Smith said.

“That quote kind of ticked me off,” Smith said. “I have a hard time seeing how us issuing a letter of reprimand can be construed as ratifying.”

Smith said he got a verbal apology from Austin.

“I don’t want to comment on Commissioner Smith’s feelings, but I appreciate his willingness to reach out to us,” attorney general’s spokesman Dan Burton said. “We always do the best we can in these cases.”

In its March 15 letter, the commission chided Richardson for “a serious lack of good judgment” on the time cards. 

“There’s not a lot we can do after the fact, and I suppose it was within technically the decision of the sheriff,” Smith said. “That’s why in the reprimand letter we focused on lack of good judgment. That’s what we were talking about.”

‘WOULD-BE SHERIFF-KING’

Asked this week for his reaction to the time card decision by state investigators, Rawlings responded by email.

“I am not aware of any official, formal or informal act of the Davis County Commission ratifying the sheriff's knowing conduct as purportedly asserted and relied on by the Utah Attorney General's Office when declining to prosecute,” Rawlings said.

“I have seen zero evidence supporting the AG's ratification contention. Such a green stamp of approval, had it been given, would sanction selective and hushed bequeathing of public money on persons anointed to receive it by a would-be sheriff-king.”

And in a stinging letter to the Attorney General’s Office, Rawlings said with sarcasm, "Thank you for letting us know what we can get away with in Davis County. I will inform all elected officials as to what they are able to do in their various departments so the sheriff will not be the only one that can allow key or selected employees extra perks and benefits to let the good times roll on taxpayer money."

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In a recent interview, Richardson denied any wrongdoing over the time cards. He said he was trying to fulfill a promise of higher benefits made when the experienced deputy was hired. Richardson said it all amounted to a paperwork oversight because he said he had intended the time off to be treated as administrative leave.

“I understand the concept of taking care of your officers, your deputies,” Smith said. “But I’m afraid the sheriff is trying to turn this into a situation where the county commission and the county organization is not in favor public safety. And that couldn’t be any farther from the truth.”

In a separate investigation, the Rich County attorney looked into an incident in which Brent Peters, Davis County undersheriff, suffered a medical problem while vacationing at Bear Lake in August 2013.

According to Davis auditors, Peters summoned an on-duty Davis deputy to drive to Logan to help him. The deputy drove his patrol vehicle, auditors said. Richardson said Brent Peters drove his personal vehicle to Bear Lake.

Auditors also pointed to a possible criminal violation because Peters’ brother, Jed, a Davis deputy-paramedic, administered narcotic medication to the ailing lawman.

State law criminalizing “misuse of public money” applies to “funds, money and accounts,” not property with monetary value, such as a sheriff’s SUV, said a March 17, 2015, document signed by Ben Willoughby, who is now the Rich County attorney.

“Although the trips to Bear Lake seem inappropriate and probably violate Davis County policy, it does not seem like a criminal case that Rich County could pursue,” Willoughby wrote.

While investigating the narcotic treatment, Willoughby said he reviewed Utah’s Administrative Code and the EMT-Paramedic National Standard Curriculum.

Nowhere in those regulations, Willoughby said, “do I find any prohibition on administering the Fentanyl that was part of the paramedic kit Jed Peters had with him.”

Willoughby’s concluding recommendation on the two matters was to “let Davis County deal with policy violations committed by their own employees.”

RELATED: Internal affairs report: After jail death, officer complained of 'snitch'

Meantime, in a recent interview, Richardson said he had taken action in an internal affairs investigation of a Davis County Jail lieutenant in a separate incident.

Lt. Kenny Hammon became the focus of an investigation by the Davis County Attorney’s Office in February after he complained about a “snitch” alerting the county attorney to the death of an inmate who suffered a ruptured spleen in her cell Dec. 21.

Richardson said Hammon acted inappropriately by challenging the county attorney’s chief investigator and was placed on administrative leave.

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SEmarkshenefelt.

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