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Utah agency hit by insider scam recoups $820K, mostly from state risk fund

Published October 20, 2016 11:37 pm

New direction • Lawmakers unanimously endorse reappointment of board leader.
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The emergency communications agency that was rocked by a massive long-running embezzlement discovered earlier this year has recovered $820,000 — which covers most of the stolen funds, says its top official.

"We have recovered $820,000 of our loss, which is almost 100 percent … as of last week," Tina Mathieu, who leads the Utah Communications Authority (UCA), told lawmakers this week.

Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, was impressed by the rebound.



"Congratulations," said Van Tassell, a banker. "If you collected over $800,000, I'd like to hire you to collect my bad debt on my loans. That's a great percentage under very difficult circumstances. … That is not usually what happens in these kinds of cases, so congratulations."

Mathieu, in a Salt Lake Tribune interview Thursday, said the bulk of the recovered money — some $600,000 — is coming by way of an insurance settlement.

But, like all government agencies in the state, UCA is covered by the state's risk fund, an insurance pool made up of public monies.

"The insurance companies will now turn around and try to recoup their loss from the suspects," she said, adding UCA has recovered $220,000 from the suspected embezzlers.

Those suspects have been identified in court documents as former UCA administrative assistant Patricia Nelson and daughter Crystal Evans.

The two admitted in a civil lawsuit filed by the agency that they made hundreds of thousands of dollars of personal purchases on agency credit cards, then covered their tracks by manufacturing phony statements.

The decadelong scheme was uncovered in January, when a co-worker found a falsified statement left on a copy machine.

The pair agreed to pay a $2.3 million civil judgment, including interest and punitive damages, although it's unclear there is a realistic chance of the state collecting.

Mathieu hopes for criminal charges in the embezzlement.

"We are absolutely expecting there to be charges pressed — 100 percent, yes," she said. "We do have signed confessions from them."

West Valley City police have been working with FBI forensic experts, she said, adding she hasn't received any recent updates on the investigation.

A request for comment from West Valley City police was not immediately returned.

UCA was the target of harsh criticism after the embezzlement became public in April and longtime Executive Director Steven Proctor resigned, including in state audits which faulted its lax financial controls and the board's lack of adherence to open-meetings and transparency laws.

Mathieu, however, has been reappointed board chairwoman by Gov. Gary Herbert, and the Senate on Wednesday unanimously confirmed the move.

Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, told his colleagues that his confirmation committee was satisfied that UCA is "now going in the right direction," and Mathieu "is the person to continue that change."

"We feel very, very positive about the direction we're going," Mathieu told The Tribune.

Among a raft of changes the agency has made are hiring a new director — former Summit County Sheriff David Edmunds — bringing on a chief financial officer, switching to a more secure purchasing system and adhering to state purchasing and transparency laws.

Through all of it, UCA employees have gone about their work professionally, ensuring "we've never had a disruption in service," Mathieu said. "There has not been a time when an officer or one of our other users [including public health workers, corrections officers and transportation employees] has keyed the mic and not been able to speak over the radio.

"We did have this embezzlement, and it wasn't pretty, but we have worked very, very hard to try and gain back the trust from our agencies we serve and also from the citizens — it's all taxpayer dollars."

 

 

 

 

 

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