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Workman to face trial

She gives first hint that she may exit the race

Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman will face trial on charges of misusing public money and gave the first indication after her preliminary hearing Monday that her re-election bid may be over.

"I can't answer that right now," she said Monday when asked if she would withdraw. "Come to the meeting tomorrow."

She referred to a meeting tonight of Salt Lake County Republican leaders who will discuss Workman's situation and are expected to decide on a write-in candidate.

Previous times when asked if she is dropping out of the race, Workman had always answered with a firm "no."

In Monday's preliminary hearing, the evidence presented suggested that the trial's outcome might hinge on a crucial "he said/she said" conversation with a county employee.

Third District Judge Robert Hilder bound Workman over for trial after the daylong preliminary hearing. He set Oct. 18 for an arraignment — an extremely late date for the mayor, who is hoping to get a trial completed before the Nov. 2 election.

Workman is charged with two counts of misusing public monies, one a second-degree felony and the other a third-degree felony. The preliminary hearing was to determine whether special district attorney Mike Martinez has "believable evidence" to support the charges.

"The standard for preliminary hearings is pretty low, (so) this was certainly not unexpected," Workman attorney Greg Skordas said of the case advancing toward trial.

Prosecutors allege that Workman improperly arranged for the Salt Lake County Health Department to pay part of an accountant's salary at the Boys and Girls Clubs of South Valley, where her daughter, Aisza Wilde, was employed as chief financial officer.

The prosecution's star witness was a visibly nervous David Marshall, the county's chief administrative officer, who testified Workman led him to believe during a brief conversation in June 2003 that Workman met Alina Iorga at a community meeting and wanted Iorga hired as a temporary health department "community liaison."

Marshall testified that Workman told him she wanted Iorga to be her "eyes and ears" in the community, checking out what barriers existed for minorities to obtain health care. The mayor would supervise Iorga herself and sign Iorga's time sheet. He said she mentioned nothing about the Boys and Girls Clubs.

Had he known of the true nature of the position, Marshall said, he would not have arranged it, or done it a different way.

"Was it lawful?" Martinez asked him.

"No," Marshall answered.

"Violated county policy?"

"Yes."

"State statute?"

"Yes."

Several witnesses from the county and the Boys and Girls Clubs testified at the hearing, but before the matter blossomed into an investigation, except for Wilde no one but Marshall had spoken with Workman personally about how the job should be configured.

That means what happened in that less-than-10-minute conversation in Workman's office is of crucial importance: If Workman told Marshall the true nature of the position, which she maintains that she did, she can argue that she had no intent to deceive and that the matter was simply one of administrative mix-up. If Marshall is correct, however, things look bad for Workman.

It's pretty clear how Workman plans to defend herself: Skordas called Marshall "a conspiracy of one" in his closing argument.

Marshall testified that Workman may have explored retribution early on in the investigation, saying he was worried he would lose his job because he had been accused of disloyalty by Workman supporters.

"I've been told by at least two people in the room that my termination had been discussed," Marshall said. (Workman's communications director Ted Phillips disputed that.)

Workman attorney Jack Morgan suggested that Marshall, not Workman, was responsible for the mess.

"Whose decision was it to put this position in the Department of Health?" Morgan asked.

"Mine," Marshall said.

"Did the mayor ever tell you to disregard any hiring practices in bringing her (Iorga) on?"

"No." Nevertheless, Marshall maintains, Workman gave him incomplete and inaccurate information for him to correctly classify the position.

Iorga was the only other person present in the meeting between Workman and Marshall, but she lives out of state and was not present to testify in the hearing.

Skordas alluded to Iorga testifying at the upcoming trial but refused to comment on whether she would confirm Workman's version or Marshall's.

When Iorga moved away, the woman who took her place, Jennifer Schroder, also was paid by the health department.

As he did with Marshall, Morgan questioned whether health department director Patti Pavey, who had repeatedly expressed concerns about the "ghost employee" in her department, had been breaking county employment policies and state law based on her mandate to supervise all health department employees.

Morgan said Pavey did nothing "to stop this train" even though she had authority to do so. That did not go over well with Pavey, who became coldly angry at the suggestion.

"If I knew then what I know now, it would be different," she said.

Workman's case probably wasn't helped by the testimony of her daughter, Wilde, who testified that Workman had mentioned possibly placing the employee in the health department even before she met with Marshall.

Wilde said the idea of getting some help for the club came up when she was complaining — "as daughters do to their mothers" — about the possibility of losing Iorga, whom Wilde described as a "phenomenal" accountant who sought higher pay.

Wilde testified Workman said the county sometimes "loans out" employees and told her that a temporary position was open in the county health department.

The two worked out a convoluted arrangement whereby Iorga (and her successor, Schroder), would fill out a weekly county time card for 40 hours at $10 an hour, then another time card for the Boys and Girls Clubs for 15 hours at $8 an hour, resulting in $13 an hour for 40 hours of work.

"I didn't really think about it that much," Schroder said of the cumbersome arrangement.

Temporary workers are allowed to work only 1,040 hours a year for the county, so when the second accountant, Schroder, came close to her hourly limit, a third temporary employee was proposed for the club accountant.

But Terry Fortner, personnel manager for the mayor's office and administrative staff, said she called her boss to object and said she would not take care of the paperwork for the new, third employee.

"We don't use government money, taxpayer money, to hire an accountant to work for an independent agency," Fortner said. "I felt it was wrong, and I wasn't going to do it."