Feds sue state of Utah, claim top public safety officials misused grant money

Apr 13, 2020, 9:52 AM | Updated: 11:57 am
grant money salt lake isis...
The federal courthouse in Salt Lake City is pictured on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The federal government has issued a lawsuit against the state of Utah and a number of the state’s top public safety officials, alleging the fraudulent use of millions of dollars of federal grant money.

The complaint issued over the weekend in U.S. District Court accuses those named of violating the U.S. False Claims Act by not using the money as required by the terms of the grant.

Those named in the complaint are:

  • Robyn Williams – Former Deputy Director of the Utah Department of Corrections
  • Ronald Gordon – Former head of Utah’s Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ)
  • Richard Ziebarth – Grant Manager for the Utah CCJJ
  • Kirk Torgensen – Former criminal chief deputy of the Utah Attorney General’s Office
  • Thomas Patterson – Former Utah Dept. of Corrections Executive Director
  • London Stromberg – Former Corrections Deputy Executive Director
  • Col. Mike Rapich – Executive Director of the Utah Dept. of Public Safety
  • Dan Maldonado – Former Director of the Division of Juvenile Justice Services
  • Daniel Becker – Former Utah State Court Administrator
  • Rhett McQuiston – Former supervisory special agent with the Utah Attorney General’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force
  • Tom Darias – Financial Manager for the Division of Juvenile and Justice Services
  • Jeffrey Wilson – Correction Captain for the Department of Corrections
  • Mike Haddon – Executive director of the Utah Dept. of Corrections
  • Kim Allard – Director of services for the Utah Administrative Office of the Courts
  • Daniel Chestnut – Program Manager at the Utah Department of Corrections
  • Leo Lucey – Chief of Investigations with the Utah Attorney General’s Office
  • Rich Townsend – Former director of Utah’s Peace Officer Standards and Training
  • Geri Miller – Employee of the Department of Corrections
  • The State of Utah

The filing claims those named, “instead of properly using the grant money they received…  misused it by replacing rather than supplementing state money. In particular, Defendants used federal money to pay salaries of existing State employees and then did not, when required, immediately fill the vacated positions.”

If true, those allegations violate the  U.S. False Claims Act, which prohibits the use of false claims or statements submitted to the federal government for payment. The statute states any party who knowingly violates this act by presenting fraudulent claims through false records or materials is liable for a civil penalty — plus three times the amount of damages the federal government has sustained.

The documents claim the named defendants knowingly submitted false statements to receive federal grant money to replace state funding when it was supposed to supplement those funds.

Under the law, federal grants and state funds are meant to be supplemented and used together.

The documents also allege the state of Utah misrepresented budget cuts and its number of government employees to receive more federal funding.

“In particular, CCJJ knew, or should have known, the agencies were moving existing employees into grant-funded positions but not immediately filling the vacated positions with new hires,” the statement said.  “Or that the agencies were using grant funds to pay current employee salaries while misrepresenting that these positions would be, or were, eliminated in budget cuts.”

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Feds sue state of Utah, claim top public safety officials misused grant money