Audit finds ‘improper’ expenses and bonuses under former Utah agriculture boss

Nov 19, 2020, 7:03 AM | Updated: Dec 8, 2020, 1:13 pm
utah agriculture audit...
(Utah Department of Agriculture and Food offices. Credit: Paul Nelson)
(Utah Department of Agriculture and Food offices. Credit: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY – The state auditor says they’ve found major problems within the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food under the previous commissioner after an audit.  They’re releasing a scathing report, claiming money was mismanaged, funds were used for personal trips and state vehicles were used improperly. 

The audit began when the new agriculture commissioner, Logan Wilde, asked the Utah auditor’s office to look into complaints of mismanagement happening under the previous commissioner, Kerry Gibson.  Auditor John Dougall says they were getting complaints about inappropriate travel and questions about how certain cannabis growers got their licenses.  He says they weren’t focused on any specific individual and discovered several employees were engaging in questionable behavior.

Concerns Over Cannabis Grow Licenses

When UDAF was awarding grow licenses in the summer of 2019, a six-person review board looked over 80 applications.  Dougall says they noticed something odd when they looked over the scores each applicant was given.

He says, “We found some indications of possible collaboration among certain employees.”

The report shows two employees ranked seven of the applicants in the exact same order in their top-ten rankings.  A third employee gave similar scores, but not as closely related as the other two.  Plus, the rankings of three board members were changed, significantly, to more closely match the preferences of senior management officials in the department.  This led to three applicants getting licenses that they wouldn’t have received otherwise, according to the report.

Questionable Hires

The audit says two former employees, former Director of Operations Natalie Callahan and former Public Information Officer Sasha Seegmiller, both owned and operated a PR firm before and while they were employed with UDAF.  That firm reportedly worked with other government groups, political campaigns and with Gibson, himself, before he was appointed UDAF Commissioner.  Plus, the firm represented one person who later became a principal of a company that was awarded a cannabis grow license.

Dougall says these potential conflicts of interest were never disclosed, and the employees should have cut their ties with their PR firm, or they should have been let go from UDAF.

Also, auditors say one employee was hired to oversee financial operations, even though they might not have been qualified.

“There was a lack of consideration of other folks and insufficient skills of that individual, from our perspective,” Dougall says.

Inappropriate Travel Expenses and Reimbursements

The audit shows the former commissioner and former director attended a conference in Hawaii in July 2019, and both received upgrades in their travel accommodations.  The former commissioner reportedly bought an upgraded seat for the flight, and both stayed in upgraded rooms.

Auditors also say these employees asked to be reimbursed for purchases that were made on the state’s P-card, despite the fact that their policy prohibits them from doing that.

Dougall says some of these questionable payments may have been made intentionally, while others were done out of sloppiness by one of the department’s secretaries.

“Somebody would come off of traveling and would dump a bunch of receipts on her desk.  She would put together the travel reimbursement and there were mistakes in there, like things that had already been paid,” Dougall says.

Auditors also found many instances when people used state fleet vehicles for personal use, significant overtime claims without any justification and bonuses paid to employees after they were effectively terminated.  In one case, two employees went on a work trip while they had outside business interests.

“The client for the outside business interest thought they were working for them on the trip, but the department thought they were working for them.  So, clearly, there was confusion about who they were really working for,” Dougall says.

Wilde, the current Utah Department of Agriculture and Food Commissioner, issued a statement after the audit was released.  It reads…

“The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) takes the concerns raised in the Auditor’s report and the Department’s responsibility to address these concerns seriously. With regard to the awarding of cannabis cultivator licenses, in December of this year, the Department will be considering whether or not the license of each current cannabis cultivator shall be renewed. Pursuant to Utah Code Section 4-41a-203, the Department will hold a public meeting to consider the operations of each licensee and will not renew any license unless the requirements of Utah law and Department rules are being strictly followed. Additionally, the Department has asked a third party to review processes for potential irregularities. “

“The Department appreciates the time and effort by the Auditor’s Office in bringing the irregularities and issues to its attention so that UDAF can continue to take appropriate steps to address the concerns raised in the audit report. The Department is committed to moving forward expeditiously to improve internal policies and procedures in carrying out its mission to support agriculture, food safety, and to support producers throughout the state.”

Today’s Top Stories


Utah Republicans are looking to ban transgender surgeries and other hormone-based care....
Mark Jones

Utah to receive additional $4.9 million from FEMA in response to COVID-19

FEMA has announced Utah will receive an additional $4.9 million to help with the housing costs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
1 day ago
Curt Gresseth

Former U.S. Attorney for Utah talks about what FBI can take off your cellphone

A legal expert joined Dave and Dujanovic to discuss how the FBI can obtain evidence of a crime from a cellphone.
1 day ago
mini-bottles Utah liquor store...
Elizabeth Weiler

“Mini-bottles” could return to Utah state liquor stores

Mini-bottles haven't been on Utah state liquor store shelves for more than two decades. A public hearing will be held on the proposal.
1 day ago
The Biden administration is preparing for the possibility of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, left, and Flor...
MJ Lee, CNN White House correspondent

Biden administration prepares for Abbott and DeSantis to send more migrants to Democratic cities

The Biden administration is readying for more migrants to be sent to Democratic cities.
1 day ago
Gov. Cox mental health...
Mark Jones

Utah National Guard to host 67th annual Governor’s Day

The 67th annual Governor's Day will be held Saturday by the Utah National Guard at Camp Williams.
2 days ago
Samantha Herrera

Semifinalists for the new Utah flag design unveiled

The finalists for the new Utah state flag are on display at the Utah State Capitol, as well as in Logan and Cedar City through Oct. 5.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

a worker with a drill in an orange helmet installs a door in the house...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

Home improvement tip: Increase the value of your home by weatherproofing doors

Make sure your home is comfortable before the winter! Seasonal maintenance keeps your home up to date. Read our tips on weatherproofing doors.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
A paper reading IRS, internal revenue service is pictured...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Audit finds ‘improper’ expenses and bonuses under former Utah agriculture boss