Friday, June 24, 2011

Envision Ogden Records Show Corruption, Fraud, Political Pressure

To investigators, the case was a “hot potato”.
By Dan Schroeder
The Utah State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) has recently released all of its records from the Envision Ogden investigation, opened in April 2009 and closed in March 2011. The records provide a vivid look into Envision Ogden’s fundraising efforts and into the investigation itself.

Envision Ogden was a local political action committee, formed in early 2007, that concealed its political nature from most or all of its contributors. It sponsored a fundraising dinner at the Ben Lomond Hotel in February 2007, and a grand opening event at the city-owned Salomon Center in June 2007. After covering expenses for these events, Envision Ogden directed most of the remaining proceeds to political candidates and campaign activity, including expenditures that helped Mayor Godfrey’s reelection campaign in fall 2007. Godfrey told reporters last November that he had been responsible for the bulk of Envision Ogden’s fundraising.

Among the revelations contained in the newly released records are the following:
  • Both of Weber County’s hospitals contributed to Envision Ogden in order to curry favor with Mayor Godfrey, who personally solicited their contributions. A January 2007 email from McKay-Dee CEO Tim Pehrson states that his hospital’s contribution may give its affiliated health plan, Select Health, “a better shake the next time it bids on city employees.” Similarly, minutes from a meeting of Ogden Regional Medical Center administrators explain its $5,000 contribution by saying that CEO Mark Adams “has a good relationship with the mayor, good to keep it that way.”
  • Records provided to investigators by UBS Financial Services show how Envision Ogden and the Ben Lomond Hotel fabricated an invoice, months after the fact, to make it look as if the $6,047 contribution from UBS to Envision Ogden was really going to the hotel as a direct reimbursement of fundraising dinner expenses. Earlier correspondence shows that those expenses had already been paid and in any case, Envision Ogden deposited the check and never passed the money on to the hotel.
  • An April 2009 email from investigator Jim Vaughn to his supervisor, Major Jeff Carr, explains that he was trying to get federal authorities to take on the Envision Ogden investigation, because it was a “hot State potato”. After the FBI declined to take the case, Vaughn and investigator Scott Hansen proceeded with the investigation despite this. Vaughn has since retired and Hansen has also left the SBI.
  • After the initial phase of the investigation in Spring 2009, there was a lengthy delay while the Utah Attorney General’s Office was supposedly trying to obtain Envision Ogden’s bank records. A subpoena for these records was finally prepared in February 2010 and signed by Judge Denise Lindberg on February 9. Apparently, however, the Attorney General’s Office never served the subpoena on Wells Fargo Bank. The investigation therefore stalled once again, until a new subpoena was finally prepared and served in late 2010.
  • An undated entry in the investigation report, probably from late 2009, states that during a meeting with Assistant Attorney General Scott Reed, “It was determined that with only misdemeanors being evident that the case would be closed....” Although the case actually was not closed at that time, this comment underscores how Envision Ogden’s activities fell through the cracks in the criminal justice system. Misdemeanor offenses would have to be prosecuted by the city attorney (who reports to the mayor) or the county attorney (who also treated the case like a hot potato). The statute of limitations for misdemeanor prosecutions expired in 2009 in any case. State investigators were interested only in potential felony charges such as communications fraud and money laundering, but the Attorney General’s Office ultimately decided not to bring these charges either, for reasons that remain unclear.
The Attorney General’s Office took over the Envision Ogden investigation, using its own investigators, in September 2010. It then closed the investigation without filing charges on March 4, after the statute of limitations had expired for any crimes associated with Envision Ogden’s February 2007 fundraising dinner.

Some of the Attorney General’s records of the investigation have also been released, but the office is withholding other records including Envision Ogden’s financial records which were finally obtained from Wells Fargo Bank. Among those records should be the five canceled checks, totaling over $20,000, that Envision Ogden wrote to Friends of Northern Utah Real Estate—the intermediary that passed the funds on to city council candidates Blain Johnson and Royal Eccles. The endorsement signature on those canceled checks should show conclusively who controlled FNURE. I have appealed the withholding of these records to the Utah State Records Committee, which will hold a hearing on the matter on July 14.


Dan S. said...

As an aside, the SBI charged me $192 for fulfilling this GRAMA request. Their file on Envision Ogden contained 372 pages, most of which consisted of news articles, other publicly available records, other information that originally came from me, and duplicate copies of things. But they refused to separate the file in any way, insisting that I pay for all or nothing. At least they didn't withhold any records, aside from inconsequential redactions of bank account numbers and such.

OneWhoKnows2 said...

Will that $192 go to Godfrey too?  One could only hope that Matt's last days in power will involve bad press, charges filed and incarsuration.  Maybe he can use his extra campaign funds and Greiner's defense team to keep him out of jail and remain a pilar of pride and honesty in his church and community?  NOT!

Danny said...

It's interesting that we have here several pieces of hard evidence that important people felt they had to give Godfrey money to be "players" and that they could expect favors in return.

Also, it is interesting that Envision Ogden, Abraham Shreeve's money laundering sham, existed for the primary purpose of concealing the source of funding for local attorney Blaine Johnson and local small businessman Royal Eccles, both of whom were running for city council on the Godfrey ticket.  In other words, even in 2007, these men knew full well that if they were tied to Godfrey, they would be unelectable in Ogden so they both, along with Shreve, masked the source of their funding so they would not be associated with Godfrey.

Godfrey was unpopular even then, and people knew they had to pay him off to do business in Ogden City.

Years ago, people would express anguish at all the "naysayers" who voiced concern about this corrupt little man.  How quiet those people have become.

Monotreme said...

This is fantastic work, Dan. Thanks.

Ray said...

If there was any doubt as to the need for 1) GRAMA being alive and well, 2) Ethics reform in Utah, and 3) the corruption fostered by a one party system (sounds like Louisiana under Boss Long) this documentation by Dan shows it all. Looks to a deliberate postponement and pass the buck until "Oh, well statute has expired we can't do anything" This covers all the bases local, state, and federal ineptness. I can only hope one of these days the people open their eyes. So where is the home town paper on this story? NOWHERE as usual.  

Dan S. said...

Eccles and Johnson were tied to Godfrey in plenty of other ways besides Envision Ogden, and those ties were no secret. The subterfuge was presumably intended to keep Envision Ogden's donors in the dark about where their money was going, and to keep the voters from learning that these candidates' campaigns were funded mostly through fraudulent solicitations.

Dan S. said...

I don't blame the feds for not taking the case. The total amount of money involved was only $80k, and they have bigger fish to fry.

The local and state attorneys, however, should have brought criminal charges.

oldguy said...

The usual great job by Dan S. and the citizens of Ogden are very fortunate to have this man in our community. Corruption in Utah is reaching monumental heights. We complain about the way things are done (or not done) at the Federal level but our home state ranks right up there with the best of them - seems that those high moral standards Utahn's pride themselves on are in need of a little work, ya think! 

althepal said...

You are Oh So Right, Mono.  This is astoundingly good work. The whole GOP establishment "prosecution problem" is now laid bare in Utah.  The message here from Mark Shurtleff's Office:  If you're a GOP politician in Utah, especially if you're on the LDS Stake High Council in Ogden.

Danny said...

It may be that this didn't get prosecuted because of "connections", or it may be that it involved a small amount of money that was laundered into campaign cash, not personal cash.  It was probably some of each.

But what about the Ogden Community Foundation with its real estate flipping and crony board of directors, created for the sole purpose of channeling money and real property into the personal control of Godfrey and his minions?

The statute of limitations may have passed to investigate that too.  But Godfrey should remember that the dirt is only one GRAMA away from exposure.  Remember how the 21st Street Pond deal came out in the Sunday paper in all its filthy glory for all to see?

Advice to Godfrey:  Seek your next job in another state, like DeeDee Corradini did.

lordfarquad said...

“a better shake the next time it bids on city employees.” 

Isn't this a complete admission of bribery, pay for play, that sort of thing??


Ozboy said...

You do a great public service Dan, thanks and I think Ogden is damn lucky to have you around.

However, I must disagree with your above statement that  "The total amount of money involved was only $80k, and they have bigger fish to fry"  as forgiveness for the feds not taking this case on.

Granted $80 thousand isn't much money when it comes to federal crimes, but it is the underlying principal of local politicians using all these manipulations, tactics and the law itself to get away with crimes against the citizens - and against the whole damn institution of government. 

These crimes go against the integrity of the whole election process and should be investigated and prosecuted by the feds regardless of the dollar amounts.

Curmudgeon said...

It's nice to be a politician when the AG has your back,  que no?

Nice digging, Dan.   Again.

  But I remember when daily newspapers used to dig stuff like this up.  Regularly.  Proud of it.  Considered it part of their job.

God, I must be getting old.....

Carolyn Saam Bennion said...

Great job Dan!

Monotreme said...


Maybe you can answer this. It's been eating on me all day.

What sort of thing would make an investigator characterize an investigation as a "hot potato"? I thought the SBI was charged with investigating allegations of official fraud.

It's sort of like a policeman refusing to arrest people, or trying to find some other jurisdiction to do it, because it's a political "hot potato".

rudizink said...

Mono... here's the short answer, provided by the ever-savvy Curm, infra:

"It's nice to be a politician when the AG has your back,  que no?"

And a slightly longer answer involves prosecutorial discretion, a legal doctrine which provides that in the USA at least, prosecutors have almost complete (absolute) discretion whether to file charges, even in cases where all elements of the prima facia case are complete and provable in court.

Plainly somebody at the top of the Utah prosecutorial food-chain (Mark Shurtleff, Gary Herbert perhaps?) made this case a "hot potato."

The real question here, I believe:

"Why would Utah Top Brass Gummint officials intervene to force Utah prosecutors to exercise what's apparently "political" discretion to protect Boss Godfrey, et al.? Party politics?  Church affilaiations? Campaign donations?

So many questions... so few answers...

Ernie the Attorney said...

Here's my question to you, Rudi, and to the state and local prosecutors
who sat by and let the limitations of action statutes run, and failed to
enforce local and state laws:

Are Mark Shurtleff  and Gary Williams anything other than  aiders and abbettors to Godfrey's crimes?

Never mind answering this question.

We already know the answer, que no?

you who said...

And the contribution that Mckay Dee gave to the Mayor did pay off with a better shake. Th insurance arm of IHC now insures the Ogden City Employees, chosen by none other than Mark Johnson around the time the sleazy bastards came up with the scheme

Cgwatching said...

What part of  this corruption doesn't former Prosecutor Reed Richards understands when it comes to a member of his own high council is all behind this.

Cgwatching said...

The key word is integrity. Right on Ozboy

BlameJohnson said...

Excerpts from the investigation report:
Hansen asked, Shreve, "Who is Friends of Northern Utah Real Extate."
Shreve responded, "That's Blain Johnson."
Hansen asked, "If that is Blain Johnson's business, why did he deny any knowledge of it in a press interview?"
Shreve, "I don't really know. I asked myself that question when I found out about it."
Some criminals go to prison, some go to jail and some probably just end up going to hell.  Denial must be a wonderfully liberating experience.  Anyone need an attorney?  Rumor has it he's taking new clients! 

Dan S. said...

Well, let's put it this way: I don't think the feds should immediately take on every local political corruption case in the five-figure range. However, when the local and state authorities exhibit a pattern of not prosecuting such cases, perhaps the feds should investigate those authorities!

Dan S. said...

That question bugs me to, in the sense that folks at the state level should be relatively immune from pressure from local politicians. Godfrey does have state-level connections, but I don't know how extensive those are. For one thing, Greiner was a legislator at the time that comment was written (and had already been tipped off about the complaint by someone in the AG office).

Also, keep in mind that political corruption cases make up only a tiny fraction of these guys' work load. Scott Reed, the main assistant AG, also does murder trials according to the newspaper. The investigators, I believe, were in a division that specializes in white collar crime, but even that is rarely as political as this case. So for all of them, it's easy to shove political cases to the back burner while (to mix metaphors) they work on potatoes that aren't so hot.

Dan S. said...

If the Envision Ogden donations were the only factor, we'd expect the opposite, with city employees insured by a group that sends them to Ogden Regional. After all, ORMC donated five times as much to EO as McKay-Dee.

Whether these donations made any difference at all would be impossible to prove. The important point is that the donors believed they might make a difference, and Godfrey allowed them to believe that.

rudizink said...

"For one thing, Greiner was a legislator at the time that comment was
written (and had already been tipped off about the complaint by someone
in the AG office)."

This is exactly why there ought to be legislative ethics rules in place preventing employees of city government from simultaneously holding state legislative offices.  Although there may in fact be no actual evidence that Chief/Senator Greiner affirmatively acted to thwart the efforts of state prosecutors, the potential conflict of interest between Greiner's city loyalties and those of his legislative office creates an untenable situation which undermines public confidence in the criminal justice system.

rudizink said...

Godfrey is a Criminal. He belongs in Draper, along with his bestest scammer buddy, Val Sojthwick.

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