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Criminal charges filed against Provo city councilman

PROVO — The Utah County Attorney's Office filed criminal charges Wednesday against city Councilman Steve Turley, leading city leaders to call for his resignation.

Turley faces seven counts of communications fraud, two counts of exploitation of a vulnerable adult and one count of pattern of unlawful activity — all second-degree felonies.

According to charges filed Wednesday in 4th District Court, Turley "engaged in a course of conduct to defraud others or obtain money, property or other items" valued at more than $5,000 on at least 10 occasions between July 2006 and December 2009.

Those alleged actions, Turley's colleagues say, compromise the integrity of the Provo city government.

In a letter sent to Turley on Tuesday, Provo Mayor John Curtis and council members Midge Johnson, Sherrie Hall-Everett, Richard Healey and Cynthia Dayton say they believe Turley's "ability to serve effectively … has been so compromised by these allegations that it would be in the best interest of you, your family and the city that you immediately resign your position as a member of the council."

The county attorney's office had been investigating Turley for several months in response to complaints from residents about the councilman's business dealings.

Turley has served on the Provo City Council for the past 7½ years.

Provo residents have been after Turley to step down for several months, alleging that the councilman has used his public position for personal economic gain.

"This has been a long time coming," said Diane Christensen, one of 23 Provo residents who filed a conflict-of-interest complaint against Turley with the Utah County Attorney's Office and Mayor Curtis in November. "The appropriate thing for Mr. Turley to do now would be to resign."

Among the alleged crimes for which Turley has been charged include passing out fliers in September and October 2009 about a planned "reclamation project" in Slate Canyon.

At the time, Turley indicated the area would not be used as a gravel pit and that he did not stand to make any profit from the project, according to the charges.

"At the same time, (Turley) was negotiating with a construction company and representing he was going to be conducting a significant mining project in Slate Canyon," the charges state.

Based on those claims, a construction company obtained more than $1 million in equipment, according to the charges. The company later found out that the project was about one-third the size as represented by Turley.

Later, Turley admitted he could profit from developing the land, the charges state.

The charges also detail a December 2006 deal in which Turley had alleged victims sign a new purchasing agreement raising the offer price of the home he was building to $265,000 but promised them the final price would remain $172,000.

Turley then took the new purchase agreement, without the part indicating he planned to honor a lower price, and obtained an extension on the loan based on the full $265,000, according to the charges.

"The bank official would have called the loan without the additional documentation," the charges state.

On another occasion, Turley allegedly persuaded a property owner over 65 years old to sign a quit-claim deed based on the councilman's representation that he would deed another property to the victim. Turley never completed the transfer, however, and later took out a loan on the victim's property, which since has gone into foreclosure, charges state.

Another case involved Turley persuading a physically and mentally impaired elderly woman sign over to him a lease on her home without any compensation — and without the woman understanding what she signed, according to the charges.

None of the victims are named in the charges.

"We're just so relieved (charges have been filed), especially for those people who have been directly affected by his actions," Christensen said.

Provo residents repeated their call for Turley to step down during a Provo City Council meeting earlier this month.

"We have painstakingly gathered volumes of evidence that we believe clearly and convincingly shows that Steve Turley grossly and purposely misused his public office for personal benefit and … dealt with (residents) of Provo in a way that betrays the public trust," Christensen said, reading a statement from the group of residents during the July 12 meeting.

The group also renewed its complaint with the mayor's office that Turley violated the Municipal Officers' and Employees' Ethics Act by using his elected position for personal gain and failing to disclose conflicts of interest.

Curtis said his office intends to investigate those claims and submit a recommendation to the City Council for possible sanctions. That investigation is expected to take four to six weeks.

The group of Provo residents issued a statement Wednesday, thanking Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman for taking the "first step to bring justice to a chaotic and distressing situation."

In the November complaint, the Provo residents listed several properties for which they alleged Turley used his office for personal benefit or to negotiate for land swaps. They also listed several properties, corporations and land negotiations in which Turley allegedly failed to disclose his involvement or failed to do so in a timely manner.

Attempts to reach Turley for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.