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State audit alleges former Cache County prosecutors misused public resources

A red brick building that is the old Cache County Courthouse sits beneath a clear blue sky.
Jimmy Emerson, DVM
/
Flickr
The Historic Cache County Courthouse

A state audit alleges two former members of the Cache County Attorney’s Office improperly used public resources for personal benefit and took contracts to prosecute cases in other jurisdictions without Cache County’s knowledge or approval. The audit also alleges the two used Cache County resources to carry out the other jobs.

Cache County’s administration indicated in a news release Thursday the alleged conduct may have been a crime, saying the county attorney’s office, “will make no further comment at this time due to a pending criminal investigation.” The news release said the county fully complied with the investigation, and the county said it has already taken steps to strengthen oversight for all elected officials and employees.

Cache County said it will request the Utah Attorney General’s Office to investigate and prosecute any potential criminal conduct committed by the two former prosecutors. In an email, a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office said the office is aware of the audit and waiting for a referral to determine their next steps.

Private contracts

The state auditor’s office began investigating after receiving a complaint that the former county attorney had a private contract to prosecute cases in nearby Rich County, according to the audit.

In the past, Cache prosecutors have offered their services to cities in the county — like Logan, Hyrum and Nibley — and nearby Rich County. These agreements were reviewed and approved by the respective county councils. Cache and Rich agreed to a contract where Cache prosecutors would handle cases in the rural county from 2017 to 2019. The audit says three Cache County Council members were aware of this contract.

However, during a November 2018 Rich County commission meeting, the Rich County Attorney told the commission he and the then-elected Cache County Attorney, “wanted to cut Cache County out of their arrangement,” according to the audit.

By the end of 2018, the contract between the two counties was terminated, the audit says, and by the following March, the Cache County Attorney signed a contract to work as Rich County’s chief criminal deputy attorney — effectively the main attorney prosecuting criminal cases. The new contract stated the Cache attorney would be paid $3,000 per month, plus mileage reimbursement.

As part of the contract, the Cache attorney “regularly utilized the services” of the Cache chief criminal deputy and paid the deputy to work on cases in Rich, the audit says.

The audit says members of the Cache County Council and the former county executive were not aware of the private contract between the county attorney and Rich County. The audit also alleges the county attorney had a private contract with Mendon City while employed as the Cache County Attorney, and the deputy had a private contract with Nibley from 2015 to 2019 while employed at Cache.

The chief criminal deputy resigned from the Cache County Attorney’s Office once the state auditor’s office began an investigation, the audit says.

Investigators allege Cache employees worked on cases in Rich County and Mendon, in addition to Cache’s case management software allegedly being used in over 300 Rich cases. The chief criminal deputy allegedly traveled to Rich County as a driver or passenger using a Cache County vehicle and used his Cache County computer and email to handle Rich cases.

The audit also says a federal grant partially paid the Cache County salaries for both prosecutors, when they were instead working on cases in Rich.

State auditors wrote it “appears likely” that the former county attorney “improperly used Cache resources to fulfill these private contracts.”

Investigators appeared to have spoken with the two, as the audit says they, “assert that the use of public resources for private prosecution contracts predates them,” before noting that others in the Cache County Attorney’s Office disagreed.

The audit makes several allegations of impropriety against the two attorneys, including misusing public resources and inappropriately accessing case information. The audit also says the two failed to disclose their outside employment to the county. The two apparently told investigators, “their private contracts were well known within Cache and even authorized.”

However, the audit says, “given the absence of documented disclosures, statements to the contrary from Cache officials, and incidents noted ... it appears more likely that their outside employment was not well known.”

Included in the audit was Cache County’s response to the allegations. The county said no current employees of the Cache County Attorney’s Office have or had other prosecution contracts, nor do current employees use Cache resources for second jobs. The county added it started a yearly ethics training for all employees earlier this year.

‘Two sides to a story’

Though he’s not mentioned by name in the audit — except in a timeline from 2015 to 2022 spelling out who served as county attorney — the elected Cache County Attorney during the time of the alleged impropriety was James Swink, who left the county attorney job in 2021 with time still left on his elected term.

Swink said Thursday he retired from the job after 13 years of public service so he could go back to the place he started his career — the Weber County Attorney’s Office. Chris Allred, the Weber County Attorney, said Thursday that Swink is employed at his office.

In a statement, Swink said, “there are always two sides to a story and additional facts and information available that provide the complete picture.

“The Audit released by the Utah State Auditor makes several recommendations to the County to improve its policies related to employees, grants, and outside work. It references ‘possible misuse’ of public resources, but does not reference available facts and information that refute this allegation and other assertions in the report.”

Cache County Attorney’s Office said in a news release it “has no reason to believe any criminal prosecutions were impacted by the alleged misconduct documented in the State Auditor’s report.”

“The Cache County Attorney’s Office understands that when those entrusted with enforcing the law allegedly use their positions to enrich themselves, the public’s trust in the criminal justice system can be severely harmed,” the office said in a news release. The office said it would not comment further, “due to a pending criminal investigation.”

Reporter Jacob Scholl covers northern Utah as part of a newly-created partnership between The Salt Lake Tribune and Utah Public Radio. Scholl writes for The Tribune and appears on-air for UPR.