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Fraud charges dismissed, 'nightmare' over for ex-Provo councilman

PROVO — Steve Turley called for heightened scrutiny by prosecutors Wednesday as the final criminal counts against the former Provo councilman were dismissed.

"It's good to have this nightmare over," said Turley, who has been battling seven felony charges accusing him of defrauding others for profit during business dealings between 2006 and 2009. Three other charges were previously dismissed.

"I did nothing wrong," he said.

Fighting the charges has been a slow and expensive process, Turley said Wednesday, holding his wife's hand as he became emotional.

"It has devastated our family, and it's a shame we had to go through that — that some overzealous prosecutors had the ability to do that to an innocent family's life," Turley said. "I don't know how something like this can be made right."

Turley has long said the case against him was politically motivated, fueled by a rivalry between him and other members of the Provo City Council over different political ideas and agendas.

Turley also said that Provo Mayor John Curtis and members of the City Council at the time "rushed to judgement" when they pushed him to resign, which he did in September 2011, about two months after the charges were filed.

Turley was charged in July 2011 after 23 Provo residents filed a conflict-of-interest complaint citing several instances in which the councilman allegedly used his public position for personal financial gain. The complaint led to an investigation by the Utah County Attorney's Office and ultimately the criminal charges against Turley, which related to his business dealings between July 2006 and December 2009.

Three counts of communication fraud, a second-degree felony, were dismissed in November 2013. All remaining charges were dismissed on Wednesday.

After the charges were filed, Turley's colleagues on the City Council called for his resignation, saying his continued presence on the council compromised the city's standards of ethics.

Turley refused to resign at that time, instead opting for a leave of absence. That sparked an internal investigation into the residents' allegations of ethical misconduct, headed by former 4th District Judge Anthony Schofield, who concluded that Turley violated the Utah Public Officers' and Employees' Ethics Act in at least five ways, including failing to disclose conflicts of interest and using his office to further his personal economic interests.

"Four years later we sit here, grateful to a judge who gave us the chance to present the facts," Turley said.

All civil contract disputes that formed the foundation of the criminal charges against Turley have been settled, his attorney Brett Tolman said. In fact, individuals named as victims in the case have since said the failed business deals were not fraudulent.

"I think there was gamesmanship in the investigation," said Tolman, who criticized how the case had evolved. "Combine that with the method of this investigation, which was to listen political enemies and lawyers or litigants who are trying to win civil cases, and you have a recipe for the potential for a case that comes out that is not supported by probable cause."

That said, allegations of public corruption must be investigated, Tolman said, alluding to ongoing "high profile" cases in the state.

Recounting the experience of running into an acquaintance just this week and being asked whether he had already served jail time, Turley acknowledged he may never shed the stigma of having been charged with a crime.

"That's the reason why prosecutors have got to be a lot more circumspect about what they do," Turley said. "When they create that stigma and attach it to you, I have to wear that, then find a way to shuck that over the years to come."

Moving forward, Turley said his committment to public service may simply be spending time in the community with his family rather than running for office again.

"Everything went on hold," Turley said. "I couldn't move my education forward. I couldn't move my business interest forward. I had a tough time just keeping the lights on. Now is the opportunity to start over and rebuild."

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com, Twitter: McKenzieRomero