A Roosevelt businessman and the former head of the Uintah County Special Service District have been denied in their bid for a new trial.
Following a three-hour hearing Friday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, Judge Ted Stewart ruled that attorneys for Gil Mitchell and Katherine "Kate" Erickson failed to prove that a guilty verdict against their clients should be overturned.
The two each stand convicted of three federal felony counts for obstruction of justice. The convictions stem from efforts by Mitchell, owner of Ned B. Mitchell Construction, and Erickson, who was responsible for overseeing road improvement projects for Uintah County, to falsify documents subpoenaed by a grand jury in January 2000.
According to Melodie Rydalch, public information officer for the U.S.. Attorney General's Office, sentencing for the pair will take place in January. Each count carries a possible maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Legal counsel for Mitchell and Erickson had challenged the guilty verdicts on the grounds that prosecutors failed to submit sufficient evidence to prove guilt, and also prejudiced jurors against their clients.
Defense attorneys Wendy Lewis and Loren E. Weiss sought either an acquittal or a new trial on the grounds that the government presented "little or no evidence" that their clients acted dishonestly. They also maintained the jury was unduly biased by the evidence and arguments raised by the government during testimony, as well as in their opening and closing statements.
During the five-day trial in January, a Uintah Special Service District board member testified that the board implicitly trusted Erickson and did not review paperwork she presented for payment when they signed checks made out to Mitchell Construction. An employee of the district testified that she was present when Mitchell and Erickson changed dates on paperwork to be submitted to the grand jury.
An investigation into improprieties determined that two of the contracts Mitchell was being paid for had actually been terminated in 1998 and the third had been awarded to another company.
The three contracts for the road projects that prosecutors maintained had been altered were submitted to the grand jury in the course of their investigation into allegations of bid-rigging and kickbacks on federally funded road projects handled by the Uintah Special Service District in the late 1990s.
Erickson was fired as the district's manager in May 2001 after a list of improprieties came to light, including between $200,000 and $400,000 paid to Mitchell Construction for work that was allegedly never performed or for which he was overpaid.
Uintah County did not take legal action against the pair, choosing the let federal investigators file criminal complaints.