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Tooele mayor faces records probe

Expenses audit goes to sheriff for analysis

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TOOELE — Ever since Mayor Charlie Roberts' 2001 bid for a second term, his spending of city funds and reporting of expenses have been in question. Now an audit has been turned over to the sheriff's department for further investigation.

Roberts is denying any wrongdoing, calling the audit unfair and inaccurate.

"They did not make copies of any records that would clarify their findings. . . . My concern is with the quality of the report."

Tooele County Attorney Doug Ahlstrom could offer little comment, only to say that a sheriff's investigation is ongoing. The audit was originally submitted to Ahlstrom's office by City Attorney Roger Baker on advice of the Attorney General's Office and Utah League of Cities and Towns lawyer David Church. The reason, Baker said, was to avoid the appearance of any kind of "collusion or secrecy."

City Councilmen Larry Silcox and Michael Johnson told Roberts about the audit last May. The City Council had already decided in a closed session without Roberts present to conduct an investigation. There are differences of opinion whether that meeting and another meeting to talk about the draft audit were legal. Silcox said public notice was given of both meetings.

The audit was conducted by the firm LECG, which Johnson has worked with in his own job as an attorney.

The report, completed last December at a cost of $5,394, scrutinized 382 charges totalling $35,881.36 between July 1, 1999, and June 30, 2002. Of that amount, LECG said charges of $9,765.57 either did not have a receipt, were over-reimbursed, had no stated business purpose or were simply not business-related.

Roberts and redevelopment agency project coordinator Shannon Walter have crafted a response to the audit. In one instance, the audit criticized the mayor's purchase of a $900 digital camera, saying the whereabouts of the camera were unknown. The camera, Roberts said, was in his assistant's drawer the whole time during the audit.

"In my opinion," Walter said, "they definitely overlooked a lot of the documentation and in some cases they made some findings based on no documentation. . . . I don't know if they did any research."

LECG accountant Mark Hashimoto said it was the council's intent not to work with Roberts during the audit, and that the mayor would be allowed to respond to a draft report. "I didn't really have a problem with that because I didn't think it would turn into what it has at this point."

Hashimoto said he is willing to amend his report to move some of the items out of the "questionable" category. Roberts and Walter said they have already done LECG's legwork.

The City Council could have used state resources to conduct a free but more public audit of the mayor's expenses. A private firm was chosen, said Councilman Doug Redmond, to avoid dragging Roberts through the "mud" before all the facts were on the table. Roberts has since paid back the city about $300, saying he inadvertently sought reimbursement for something for which he'd already been paid.

"Do I think there's anything criminal?" Redmond asked. "Absolutely not. And I don't think his intent was criminal. . . . I think, overall, it was blown way out of proportion."

Councilman Steve Bevan ran against Roberts in 2001 and made the mayor's spending an issue during the campaign. After losing, he continued to press the City Council to do an audit. Bevan did not respond to a request for an interview.

Last June the City Council implemented regular reviews of Roberts' spending and, according to Redmond, the number of expenses and the amounts have decreased "dramatically."

Silcox said there still may be some questions about whether some of the expenses were business-related and that a tighter city policy on mayoral spending may be in order.


E-mail: sspeckman@desnews.com