Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Criminal Wrongdoing in the 2007 Ogden City Council Campaign - Updated

Even in Emerald City, laundering campaign contributions is illegal

By Dan Schroeder

During the 2007 Ogden municipal election campaign, an entity called Friends of Northern Utah Real Estate accepted over $20,000 in contributions from Envision Ogden and immediately passed this money on to two city council candidates, Blain Johnson and Royal Eccles. This activity violated Ogden's campaign finance disclosure ordinance, which prohibits campaign contributions made by one person in the name of another. The violation is a class B misdemeanor. If Mr. Johnson is convicted as a knowing participant in this activity, he will be disqualified from holding office as a city council member.

Evidence


The receipt of funds from Friends of Northern Utah Real Estate (FNURE) is detailed on the financial disclosure statements filed with the Ogden City Recorder by candidates Blain Johnson and Royal Eccles on October 26, November 28, and November 30, 2007. Johnson received a total of $10,990 in four installments from FNURE, while Eccles received $9700 in two installments. For each candidate this amount constituted more than half of the total contributions received during the campaign cycle--and substantially more than the total contributions received by the candidate's opponent. Johnson's disclosure statements give the address of FNURE as "4723 Harrison, Ogden," which is the same building as his law office. Eccles gave no address for FNURE on his statement.

No entity by the name of Friends of Northern Utah Real Estate, or anything similar, is registered as a business in Utah or as a 527 political organization with the IRS.

Meanwhile, Envision Ogden was organized in early 2007 and conducted various fundraising activities during the first half of that year, including the "Sneak Peek" grand opening of the city-owned Salomon Center on June 15. The organization made a direct contribution of $1500 to Johnson's campaign on September 7, 2007, as disclosed on Johnson's October 26 statement.

However, by early September, Envision Ogden was coming under increasing scrutiny. One citizen asked the Lieutenant Governor's office to inquire into the organization's status. A second citizen submitted a records request to Ogden City, asking for documentation of the arrangement under which Envision Ogden was permitted to use the Salomon Center for its fundraising event. A third citizen called the leader of Envision Ogden and asked about the organization's purpose and how it had been able to use the Salomon Center.

Envision Ogden notified the IRS of its Section 527 status (using the required Form 8871) on March 3, 2008. The form names realtor Abraham Shreve as the chairman and only officer, and Jeff Lucas as the custodian of records. Its 2007 year-end Report of Contributions and Expenditures (Form 8872) was submitted on May 12, 2008. That report lists the direct $1500 contribution to Blain Johnson plus five later contributions, totaling $20,700, to "Northern Utah Friends of Real Estate." The purpose of these contributions is stated to be "city council campaign support." The total amount is just $10 more than the total amount of the six contributions from FNURE reported by Johnson and Eccles. The dates and amounts of the individual contribution installments also correspond to an extent.

In conclusion, it would appear that FNURE simply forwarded political contributions from Envision Ogden to candidates Johnson and Eccles. This effectively concealed the true source of these contributions from voters, both before the election and for more than six months after the election.

Relevant law

Section 1-8-3C of the Ogden City Code prohibits campaign contributions made by one person in the name of another:

C. In Name Of Another: No person shall make a contribution in the name of another person or make a contribution with another person's funds in his or her own name, and no candidate, member of a personal campaign committee, or political campaign committee shall knowingly accept a contribution made by one person in the name of another person or made by one person with the funds of another person.
Section 1-8-1 defines "person" very broadly to include organizations and committees. Section 1-8-7 makes violation of the disclosure ordinance a class B misdemeanor, and states that a person convicted of such a violation may not hold the office to which the person was elected, if any.

Implications

Whoever operated FNURE clearly violated Ogden's ordinance and is guilty of a class B misdemeanor. At this time we do not know the identity of that person or persons. However, the address that Johnson gave for FNURE suggests that the entity was operated either by Johnson himself, or by someone else at his law firm, or by someone else in the same building. In any case, it should be easy for a prosecutor to subpoena the bank records and determine who was signing the checks.

Even if someone else signed the checks, Johnson and Eccles would still be guilty of violating the ordinance if they were aware that the FNURE contributions originally came from Envision Ogden.

It seems probable that Envision Ogden violated Ogden's disclosure ordinance by contributing funds through FNURE. It may also have violated another provision of the ordinance by making $4684 in direct expenditures for the 2007 campaign. In addition, Envision Ogden appears to have violated federal tax laws by filing Form 8871 more than a year after it began accepting contributions, by failing to file a mid-year disclosure report, and by filing its year-end disclosure report more than three months after the January 31 deadline. Envision Ogden may have also violated state laws by soliciting contributions while holding itself out to be a charitable organization, and by contributing $2000 to a legislative candidate in 2008 without properly registering with the state or filing its disclosure statement on time.

Finally, Ogden City officials may have violated the law by allowing Envision Ogden to use a city-owned building for a political fundraising event.

Update 3/4/09 8:18 a.m. MT: Dan has just now transmitted to us a new supporting document, for those readers who might be interested in a detailed Envision Ogden event timeline. We are accordingly pleased to present Dan's newly-submitted Envision Ogden Chronology here.

54 comments:

Let the truth be known said...

When will the Powers that be in the Judicial branch wake up and see that the laws are broken and that there should be someone that is responsible for what has happen. I think that when nothing is done about this, the corruption then gets bigger and bigger and then we have real problems. But more importantly we see all disregard for the rule of law and then we will have kayos.

Dorothy Littrell said...

Thanks to you, Dan, for putting this information together.

Were you able to determine if PayPal was used at any time for moving these campaign funds around?

Utah laws pertaining to campaign contributions state that donations must be made in cash or by check.

Donations going through a third resource such as PayPal are technically not conforming to the election law.

Matthew Godfrey used PayPal for his donations in his run for the mayor's office the last time round. He also used several campaign committees.

This was one of the numerous reasons 60-plus Ogden citizens and myself filed a lawsuit against Ogden City Recorder Mansell, Ogden City Attorney Williams and mayoral candidate Matthew Godfrey during that campaign to try to get other campaign violation information brought before Judge Parley Baldwin.

The information was also turned over to the Lt. Governor's office and the Utah AG's office but those officials also declined to investigate.

I support your efforts to get full disclosure for Utah voters re Envision Ogden.

dan s. said...

Dorothy,

The law you refer to says that contributions of more than $50 must be made by "personal or certified check or bank draft." The purpose of that provision is the same as that of the "in name of another" provision: to ensure that the source of a contribution cannot be concealed. It isn't clear to me whether a PayPal contribution meets the literal requirement, but it would certainly be consistent with the spirit of this law provided that the source of the contribution can be traced.

Focusing on technicalities and overly literal interpretations isn't merely useless--it's counterproductive. You, of all people, should understand that by now. In the case of Envision Ogden, however, the violations go directly against both the letter of the law and its underlying intent.

danny said...

There are too many "may" and "might" type comments in the article, which seems to be trying to tweak a prosecutor to look into the situation.

Given the level of cronyism (like DeCaria's whitewash of the vangate issue) this seems like a wild goose chase.

The really solid part of the article is that Envision Ogden and Friends of Northern Utah Real Estate (especially the latter) appear to be merely fronts to circumvent city campaign disclosure laws, and that part seems pretty bulletproof.

So given that the local prosecutors are corrupt, what do do? That is the key question.

Is there some way for citizens to prosecute a public official, ie Blaine Johnson? Blaine, if you're reading this, you're an attorney, how do we cite you for this and prosecute you, bro?

danny said...

BTW, word is godfreyite Blaine is not running for reelection this fall. So does that make it a moot point? Blaine, go while you can, and while you can still keep your "reputation" at least partially intact. (You sleazebag.)

Bill C. said...

Danny, it's not just Decaria, the lt. Governor and AG have been contacted. The have had almost all the information at one time or another, I sincerly hope they've retained it. The final pieces came with the late filings, clearly laws were broken.
A good place to start now would be citizen phone calls to both demanding that action be taken. How can they expect anyone to respect the law if our elected officials don't have to?
Lieutenant Governors office-801-538-1041
The person at the AG's office -801-281-1208
My suggestion is to take the time to call, and raise a little hell, it can't hurt.

been there, done that said...

Let's be realistic - in Utah there is no way for a citizen to get anything done about law violations committed by a politician running for office or in office because the politicians in office such as the County Attorney or the City Attorney or the Utah Attorney General look the other way or refuse to return phone calls..

It is also a joke to go before the Grand Jury Judges group that meets 4 times a year to present proof of violations to try to get a Grand Jury called. The judges will tell you that they are only interested in a murder case or similar felony cases.

There is no recourse for a citizen regarding campaign election law violations. What citizen wanting justice can afford to go to court and wind up paying thousands of dollars in fines because the judge refuses to hear the merits of the case?

What attorney is going to even take their case. If he does take the case he will wind up paying another $10 grand for his personal fines because he dared take the case.

There is no justice in Utah for the typical law-abiding citizen who is just looking for honesty in Utah government.

It became obvious in the Ogden city election lawsuit that certain judges are going to throw the book at citizens financially who dare to bring a case against the politicians for failure to obey campaign laws.

Huey Long of Louisiana notoriety had nothing compared to Utah justice for citizens.

Bill C. said...

Danny, regardless of whether he would run again, the Bar Assn. may have an interest in his conduct here in Ogden City politics, believe it or not, it's believed that lawyers have a code on ethics.

Let the truth be known said...

Maybe after all is said and Done, we do have a democrat in the white house. That means that there is a new U.S. attorney to go to and maybe that is the next place to turn to.

summers eve said...

Has anyone contacted the ACLU to shed more light on the elections in Ogden?

Just saying it might not hurt.

Curmudgeon said...

Let me ask what I'm fairly sure is a naive question: since at least some of the possible violations Dan S. noted involve violations of the Ogden City Code, would it not be proper for the Council to ask the City Attorney --- or the Council's counsel --- to investigate the allegations? Baldly put, there has been a question raised whether a sitting member of the Council was involved in campaign illegalities during the election which put him in office. Most legislative bodies retain the right to examine the activities --- and qualifications --- of their own members to sit. The US House and Senate [however rarely they do it] have the power to investigate the conduct of their own members. So do the Utah House and Utah Senate [again, however rarely they choose to exercise that power]. Does the Council have the authority to ask either the city attorney or the Council's counsel to examine Mr. Johnson's possible involvement in campaign actions banned by the city code? I don't know. I'm asking.

al said...

Curm-

Word on the street is that Ogden City Attorney Gary Williams was with Johnson's law firm before he started employment with the city and they are still good friends.

Curmudgeon said...

Summner's Eve:

As a general rule, the ACLU's charge is defending the Bill of Rights, and so it, again as a general rule, gets involved only in matters in which some right guaranteed by the Bill of Rights has allegedly been violated by government, or denied by government. I'm not sure there is any such right sufficiently involved in this matter to trigger ACLU involvement. They do not, as I understand things, get involved in what we might call "general corruption" cases.

Curmudgeon said...

Al:

That would mean Mr. Williams would have to recuse himself from the investigation, not that his office would/should/could not look into the matter if so tasked by the Council. I think.

summers eve said...

4026 North 4100 West
Morgan, UT 84050 for Envision Ogden from Jeremy Petersons finance statement is a bogus address.

sister k. said...

dan
contact the Judicial Conduct Commison to report johnson's conduct. it is in the phone book.

they do answer back right away.

jamie said...

let the truth be known

I do not share your hopes about our new U.S. Attorney General doing what is right or even legal.

He already plans to go after gun owners

BAT_girl said...

summers eve said.......
"Has anyone contacted the ACLU to shed more light on the elections in Ogden? Just saying it might not hurt."

As per an article I read on WCF, in the last year, ACLU UTAH is sadly lacking in funds and, therefore, legal power. At present, there is only one Lawyer working for ACLU UTAH in SLC. AND the ACLU UTAH office in SLC is the ONLY ACLU office in ALL of Utah.

ACLU Utah
http://www.acluutah.org/

As a result of all the abuse of civil liberties cases the ACLU UTAH is asked to process, particularly after Barack H. Obama's landslide last NOV., filing an application to ask ACLU UTAH to pursue a lawsuit re campaign reform in Ogden...........is simply the WRONG TREE.

kurious kat said...

Any rumors about who will try for Johnson's Council seat?

And is ex-Councilman Glasmann still a City employee? What a dud he turned out to be.

BAT_girl said...

jamie said.......
"I do not share your hopes about our new U.S. Attorney General doing what is right or even legal. He already plans to go after gun owners."

Maybe when US AG Patrick Fitzgerald is finished with toasting former Illinois Governor Rob Blagojevich toes (more for RB to include in his upcoming book)........US AG Fitzgerald can be assigned to Ogden, for clean up duties.

Paul B said...

Good luck with the ACLU thing. One of the ACLU's most historically active Ogden attorneys is named David Havas who also appears on Godfrey's donor list.

The US Attorney angle is also a non starter as all of the rules that appear to have been stomped on are local and state laws.

As some one else has already pointed out, the Grand Jury angle is also a dead end as it is purely a political body as evidenced by their repeated denial to numerous Ogden citizens who have already appealed to them for relief from the Godfrey circle crimes over the last eight years.

Bottom line is that we are just plain screwed when it comes to any relief from these crooks who control city hall.

cato said...

Dan,
any plans to present this info during the public comment phase of a city council meeting? Might be interesting to see how/if Johnson responds.

dan s. said...

cato,

If I were planning to do that, I wouldn't advertise it on the blog in advance! But of course it wouldn't have to be me. Feel free to bring it up yourself!

RJ Svengali said...

Excellent article; it uncovers leavings of what many have smelled for years.

One thing for certain, when sharks smell blood, they go in for the kill.

oldtimer said...

The article on the front page of today's Ogden Standard regarding attorney Brian Barnard is very apropos to this discussion.

He is still appealing the $10,000.00 fine Judge Parley Baldwin levied against him for daring to represent Dorothy Littrell, etal, in their suit against Godfrey and Ogden City officials in the last election.

Only in Utah

Ernie the Attorney said...

It would have come down better, old timer, if the original plaintiffs would have filed their OWN appeal.

Perhaps that Nitwit Bernard should have done it on his own motion, and at his own expense.

Brian Bernard is a compete incompetent self-serving asshole.

He should have protected his own clients from the start.

dan s. said...

oldtimer,

It's fascinating that the Standard-Examiner gives front-page coverage to this very old news. How many articles have they now printed on the Littrell lawsuit--a dozen or so? And yet they've still printed nothing about the campaign-related activities of Envision Ogden and Friends of Northern Utah Real Estate.

It's as if they want to give readers the impression that all complaints about campaign finance disclosure law violations are frivolous, while they know full well that there were serious violations that were never prosecuted.

Just ask said...

I know that Rep. Hansen has a lot of documentation that has to do with using the city building and equipment for political purposes. Has anyone approached him about all this stuff. I know he is a man that will not stand for this corruption and will help out on this issue.

Machman said...

The SE will never print anything negative or truthful about the realtors and the real estate business.

They get most of their ad revenues from the Utah Realtor Association coffers to bite the hand that feeds them and pays their salaries.

Talk about a major Conflict of Interest!!!

Bill C. said...

Machman, I take it that if and when you ever sell your place, the sign will suely read "for sale by owner".
(grin)

Machman said...

Bill C.

There will not be any "sign". It will be a "private sale" without any realtor involvement what-so-ever!

So you are correct as usual.

check six

Thirteen whole dollars said...

Rep Hansen will probably not want to help out. He didn't get his $13 a week raise from the legislature.

George K. said...

Thirteen whole dollars, sorry, but I disagree with you. No one serves on the Legislature because of the pay.

Bill C. I saw you at the Council Meeting, I would have thought that you would have reported the chicken-hearted Johnson asked to be excused and didn't face the music or his client. Fischer's petition was voted down 4 to 2 with Councilmembers Garcia and Gochnor voting for it. Several
25th Street business owners spoke against the petition and asked the Council to vote against it. Councilmember Stepehnson made the motion to deny it and Councilmember Jeske seconded it. The CIP list with the Mayor's velodrome, equestrian trail, etc. passed 4 to 2 with Councilmember Jeske and Chair Wicks voting against it.

believe me said...

Back to the PayPal issue of contributions collected for Matthew Godfrey.

PayPal is a separate company that collected donations, deducted a fee for collecting and remitted to Godfrey. It is a credit card company. The address seems to have been in Morgan, Utah.

It is a definite violation of campaign law for Godfrey to have used it to collect his money.

summers eve said...

Believe me,

Is the address in Morgan:
4026 North 4100 West
Morgan, UT 84050

If so it is the address reported by Jeremy Peterson campaign for the address of Envision Ogden donations to his campaign.

By the way the address is not a good one.

bubba said...

The crooked bastards must have torn a page out of Val Southwicks play book to pull off this great ponzi scheme.

Curmudgeon said...

Looking through Dan's chronology regarding the origins and actions of "Envision Godfrey" [aka "Envision Ogden"], I came across this:

20 March 2007 to 8 May 2007: Envision Ogden receives contributions of $1000 or more from the State of Utah.....

From the state of Utah? The state government contributed $1000 that was funneled to candidates for mayor, council and/or legislative seats through a PAC? The state of Utah?

Bill C. said...

Yes George, I attended the very long meeting last night, and didn't expect to see Johnson there. He has probably got some things to sort out.
It's rumored that he has represented Fisher in some capacity as a lawyer and possibly Provident Partners as well, this would present a huge conflict of interest if true, and should have excluded him from participating in the discussion of this ordinance or voting.
As for the discussion of the ordinance, it's quite funny how narrow the definition of the entertainment district is in the minds of most folks. To some it's really just 25th st, Fishers argument seemed to be along those lines, that's where his building is. Some would include the few possible spots in areas of 24th st as well. It seems to me that with the junction and Egyption the area should be much broader, at least incorporating all of Washington Blvd from at least 22nd st to 27th st. There are alot of vacant buildings there, not owned by Fisher and his real estate flipping buddies, which in truth, that really all this was about, he said as much. He's not hoping to go into business, he's trying to sell his building to an interested party that remains un-named.
It seemed as though the division of the Council was because of the way this was approached.
I hope the next time this is addressed they'll broaden their scope, I have no problem with more bars per se, it's opportunity for some, and there are market forces that will determine how many. My real take is this issue was discussed from both sides in a totally selfish manner, and the outcome was appropriate.
As for the employee incentive thing, it totally favors the dept. managers, it's in my estimation, an idea that has some merrit, but lacking total specifics, is not ready and could produce huge problems, I was very uncomfortable with it.
Finally, the Marshall White Center never came up, I don't know if it was slated as a capital improvement or something else. Personally I hope the heating is repaired/ replaced asap.

Bill C. said...

Curm, we were wondering about that. It would be illegal, but I believe it clearly shows that most of the donated money came under the guise that Envision Ogden was a non-profit which was how they originally presented themselves. It was much latter that they filed as a pac. Dec. 2008.

summers eve said...

From the state of Utah? The state government contributed $1000 that was funneled to candidates for mayor, council and/or legislative seats through a PAC? The state of Utah?


Pretty Ballsey huh Curm?

dan s. said...

A little bird told me that the State of Utah contribution was from the economic development department, and went for a table at the 2/07 fundraising dinner which, you'll recall, was held to "welcome" Amer Sports to Ogden. Welcome them into a tangled web of corruption, that is.

dan s. said...

Just to keep everyone posted on the status of this...

Yesterday I filed a formal complaint with City Attorney Gary Williams regarding the activities of Friends of Northern Utah Real Estate. The complaint includes most of the documentation that has been posted here on Weber County Forum. It also points out three known reasons why Williams has a conflict of interest: his attorney-client relationship with Johnson; his former employment at Johnson's law firm (with the same address as FNURE), and his attorney-client relationship with Mayor Godfrey who is also associated with Envision Ogden.

Let us hope that Williams does the right thing and passes the matter on to a qualified attorney who does not have a conflict.

porker said...

Fat chance Dan, as fat a chance as Gary is fat.

ozboy said...

I admire what you are doing Dan.

My opinion is that Williams, Godfrey, et al will do every thing they can to stonewall you. Denial Denial Denial mixed with generous doses of self righteous indignation. A friendly judge like Baldwin may or may not have to be resorted to.

How far are you willing to take this?

dan s. said...

oz,

I'm willing to take it pretty far, and so are several other folks that I'm working with. Because so many different laws were violated, there are multiple places to file complaints. When one fails (or even when it doesn't), we will pursue the next.

monotreme said...

I am looking forward to one interesting aspect of this case.

At some point, this particular gorilla will grow to more than 800 lbs and will no longer be ignored by the Standard-Examiner.

I think we WCF regulars should start a (legal) betting pool to set the date when we think that's going to happen. When is the S-E going to break down and publish something, anything on these allegations?

dan s. said...

monotreme,

If anyone is really anxious to see something in the S-E, they can always try a letter to the editor. I was invited to submit one and I'm pretty sure they would have printed it.

But if you mean a news article, gee, I don't know what date I'd bet on. For the time being, I would assume they'd give the same excuse they gave me in 2007: Until some public official takes some official action, there's no news here.

Meanwhile, the public officials are feeling no pressure to take action until the traditional media pay attention to the story.

monotreme said...

Kinda a familiar-sounding tale, isn't it?

They are a particularly incurious bunch, which I would expect from dishwashers and accountants but not from journalists.

Curmudgeon said...

Dan:

In re: the SE's excuse, to wit: Until some public official takes some official action, there's no news here. Election corruption isn't newsworthy unless someone official acts on it, but no one official will act on it until it becomes newsworthy? As Joseph Heller said, "That' some catch, that Catch-22."

Besides being gutless, the SE's stand is a betrayal of the role Jefferson and others of the founders thought it essential a free press play in a republic: turning the actions of those in power to the light of public scrutiny. That was the basis of Jefferson's famous quip about if he had to choose between living an a nation without government but with a free press, or in a nation with government but without a free press, he'd prefer the former.

Hard to see how people with the brass to call themselves newspaper men could be so gutlessly sycophantic to elected officials. Hard to think of what might be more newsworthy than charges of election corruption in a paper's home town.

The longer the SE ignores this story, the more it justifies the title many here have applied to it: The Substandard Examiner.

digusted said...

Bravo Curm, couldn't have said it better.

oldguy said...

I would like to suggest a change to the SE's banner..............
Serving the Mayor of Ogden since 2000

bRETT said...

GOOD ONE, OLDGUY!!!

Bill C. said...

Curm, need I remind you of the unwritten law, werein it is written," a local paper can only change it's name once in a five year period". The gondola examiner has a few years more to go.
They love gondolas, espesially urban ones that go to exactly nowhere.

BAT_girl said...

I think one of the PROACTIVE WCF contributors should contact the SLC TRIBUNE to air EnvisionOgden-gate. Or Bill Allred. He comes from Ogden........right.

Post a Comment

© 2005 - 2014 Weber County Forum™ -- All Rights Reserved