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TOURISM OFFICIAL ADMITS EMBEZZLING

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The treasurer of Magna Tourism and Economic Development, an organization promoting Magna that is funded primarily by Salt Lake County, has admitted to embezzling $6,719.

An audit of the organization, requested last spring by county attorney Doug Short, revealed a questionable withdrawal by treasurer Brent Huish last January and a subsequent deposit into his personal bank account. He repaid the money after auditors discovered the withdrawal."It was dumb - stupid," an emotional Huish said Saturday. "I had no real need for it. . . . Have you ever had a lapse in your life? I had a dumb lapse."

Huish said he was tempted when the organization's account last year was $6,719 out of balance with bank statements - in its favor - due to sloppy accounting by the previous treasurer.

His withdrawal "removed the imbalance, though the lapse in bookkeeping from unrecorded checks and deposits remained," Salt Lake County Auditor Craig Sorensen said in a Nov. 8 letter to Short that detailed the audit.

Deputy District Attorney Walter Ellett plans to charge Huish with second-degree felony theft, Sorensen added.

"It's a black eye for us and it's too bad," said Howard Stahle, the organization's president. How it will effect the treasurer "depends on how things develop," he said.

The 58-year-old Huish is a few years away from retirement as district manager of the Magna Water Co.

When originally questioned in August, Huish told auditors the transfer was a withdrawal of $6,800 of his mother's money that he had previously put into the account. Unable to find the earlier deposit, and with Huish unable to explain the discrepancy between the supposed $6,800 withdrawal and the actual $6,719 withdrawal, the auditors told county District Attorney Neal Gunnarson Aug. 21 there may have been a diversion of public funds.

Huish confessed last week.

Ironically, consultant Mike Zuhl, not Huish, was the primary target of the audit. Short said Magna residents have been complaining that Zuhl hasn't done anything to merit his $2,200 monthly salary.

Never one to shy away from controversy, Short said he questions whether the organization's funding is "a legitimate expenditure or a political payoff" from the County Commission to Zuhl, the state Democratic Party chairman. Randy Horiuchi is the sole Democrat on the commission.

MTED paid Zuhl $59,500 between August 1994 and April 1996, almost 95 percent of all its spending.