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Charges: League's ex-financial officer spent public money on food, clothes, Costco

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Michelle Pickering Reilly, 54, of Salt Lake City, was charged Friday in 3rd District Court with misuse of public money, a second-degree felony.
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SALT LAKE CITY — The former chief financial officer of the Utah League of Cities and Towns has been charged with misusing public money, including spending tens of thousands of dollars for personal items such as groceries, eating out, show tickets and even parking tickets.

Michelle Pickering Reilly, 54, of Salt Lake City, was charged Friday in 3rd District Court with misuse of public money, a second-degree felony.

Reilly, who was also the director for administrative services from 2012 to 2016, used credit cards issued by the league "for personal expenses," such as "personal food, traveling and clothing purchases for herself, son and romantic partner," according to charging documents. The organization pays off those credit card balances using public funds, according to investigators.

Her attorney, Greg Skordas, however, said he was "shocked" that charges were filed. He said he and his client have been working with the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office for weeks pointing out flaws in the investigation.

"Nothing was stolen. No public funds were misused," Skordas said.

Chaging documents, however, state Reilly "assigned erroneous labels" to her purchases when filing accounting sheets, such as listing "Starbucks purchases as 'office supplies,'" items purchased at a grocery store in Ireland as "software," and "an airport lounge pass as 'dues,'" charging documents state.

Some of those erroneous expenses paid for by public money, according to court records, included a $125 parking ticket; several trips to Costco in which she spent hundreds of dollars at a time — sometimes more than $500 and at least one trip with a bill of more than $600 and one with a bill of more than $700; numerous trips to Bout Time Pub and Grub; numerous fees charged by Delta Airlines; iTunes cards; a $458 meal at an upscale steakhouse; $145 for tickets to “The Book of Mormon,” and a lot of fast-food purchases.

On one credit card, Reilly made 335 purchases totalling more than $21,000, and 227 purchases on another card for more than $9,500, court document state.

"The total amount accrued between both (credit cards) is $30,888.92," the charges state.

After Reilly was confronted with an audit by the group about her credit card expenses on Aug. 24, 2016, she resigned one week later, court documents state. In 2016, she reimbursed the league of a little under $5,000, court records state.

The investigation into Reilly came after a state audit into the Utah League of Cities and Towns' spending practices raised red flags about Reilly and her former boss, the league's former longtime director Ken Bullock.

While auditors did not recommend a criminal investigation against Bullock, who auditors said used the league's credit card for personal loans to himself (later paying them back), auditors did recommend a criminal investigation into Reilly.

John Pike, Utah League of Cities and Towns board president who is also mayor of St. George, said Reilly's charges were news to him Friday.

Pike noted Reilly's purchases in question and the ensuing audit happened more than two years ago — and since then the organization has new leadership and has implemented new policies and procedures to "make sure these kinds of things hopefully never happen again."

Now, "we wait and see what the legal process orders," Pike said.

"It's really up to the legal system to decide" whether the league will be reimbursed any of the allegedly misspent money, Pike said. "We simply want to make sure that things are done right going forward."

Contributing: Katie McKellar