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Utahn finally tabbed as Mauritius envoy

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WASHINGTON — Four months after he announced his intent to do so, President Bush finally formally nominated Utahn John Price on Wednesday to become the new ambassador to Mauritius — plus, surprisingly, two other small Indian Ocean island nations, too.

Bush also nominated Price to be ambassador to the Republic of Seychelles (a group of 85 islands), and to the Federal and Islamic Republic of the Comoros (another group of islands).

Bush nominated Price despite controversy arising from a $6.6 million judgment against him this year. In that case, a couple said Price, as a business partner, had cheated them out of $1 million in a New Mexico shopping mall project. A jury agreed. Price has appealed.

The case created some controversy in Mauritius, a 720-square-mile island in the Indian Ocean with a population of about 1 million.

For example, an unnamed government source told the Mauritian newspaper L'Express that "it remains to be seen if the U.S.A. will send to Mauritius an ambassador who ought to be like Caesar's wife: above suspicion."

Price's nomination now will go to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is expected to hold a confirmation hearing on him.

Price, one of the nation's largest developers of shopping malls, is a Republican activist who gave $471,500 to party causes last year, and raised $1.3 million for the Bush campaign. He annually is one of Utah's top political donors.

Price came to America at age 6 in 1939 when his Jewish family fled the holocaust in Nazi Germany. He showed entrepreneurial skills early when at age 8 he started a market-to-apartment food delivery service in his New York City neighborhood using a converted wagon. He expanded the business to two helpers.

As a teenager, he founded an ice cream vending company.

He later attended the University of Utah to pursue an interest in geology. There he met his wife, Marcia, a fourth-generation Utahn and a descendant of LDS pioneers. They have three children and six grandchildren.

After college, Price switched from prospecting for uranium to helping a friend build a house. Soon after, he moved into construction and real estate development. By his mid-20s, he was building schools and supermarkets. He went on to become one of the nation's largest developers of shopping centers and malls.

Besides making political donations, Price has also donated heavily to cultural causes. The new fine arts museum at the University of Utah is named after him and his wife. He also made a donation to help build a Holocaust Memorial Garden and Exhibition Gallery in the new Jewish Community Center in Salt Lake City.

He serves on the Board and Management Committee for the 2002 Olympics. He also served two terms as a member of the University of Utah Board of Trustees.

Last May, when Bush announced his intent to nominate Price, he issued a statement saying, "John Price is a proven business leader and committed member of his community. He will be an outstanding representative of the United States in the Republic of Mauritius."

Price would be the second Utahn to be an ambassador to Mauritius. Former Rep. David King, D-Utah, was an ambassador there during the Carter administration.

E-mail: lee@desnews.com