Courts • List leaker should fess up, serve Latinos, Shurtleff says.
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Probation for the two former state workers convicted of disseminating a list of people they believed were undocumented immigrants was the "best we could get," Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said Tuesday.
Teresa Bassett, 59, and Leah D. Carson, 32, have been held accountable since they have convictions on their records, Shurtleff said.
"I'm satisfied with the outcome, and I hope it sends a message," he said. "I'm getting a lot of heat from people mad that I charged them at all and calling them a hero."
Shurtleff said he has received calls, emails, Facebook and Twitter messages saying he should not prosecute Bassett and Carson. The messages began arriving when news of the list broke last summer, lulled and returned when it was reported his office was discussing a plea agreement.
Shurtleff said he was willing to seek jail time for both women but his staff told him that wasn't appropriate because the women were first-time offenders accused of nonviolent crimes in which no one suffered a financial loss.
"The type of crime we can charge, the type of crime we can prove, it just was never going to be the type of crime where there is significant jail time," Shurtleff said.
Shurtleff did offer two points of disappointment: He had asked his prosecutors to try to get Bassett to spend her community service helping Latino or immigrant communities. But no such service was discussed in Bassett's court hearing Monday.
Instead, Bassett told Judge Robert Hilder, she planned to spend her 250 hours of community service at churches or giving emergency-preparedness lectures. Shurtleff, who left the details of plea negotiations to his criminal-investigations staff, assumes Bassett rejected the Latino or immigrant service idea.
Also, Shurtleff did not like that Bassett continued to maintain her innocence.
"I would have loved for her to accept responsibility, and then go serve in that community that she seems to have a problem with," Shurtleff said.
Basssett, who was charged with two felony counts of computer crime, entered an Alford plea and was sentenced Monday. Besides the community service, Bassett, who this year legally changed her name to London Grace Wellington, received 36 months of probation. The Alford plea means Bassett maintains her innocence but acknowledges there is enough evidence to convict her.
The other defendant, Leah D. Carson, 32, on Monday was charged with a misdemeanor count of false statement by an unemployment compensation agent, pleaded guilty and received 12 months of probation and $440 in fines and fees. The one-day proceedings and the sentences were agreed upon by Shurtleff's office, which investigated and prosecuted the cases.
Leaders of Latino service organizations on Monday criticized the sentences as too light given what they described as fear experienced by the 1,300 people whose names and personal information were on the list. But Bassett and Carson also have supporters.
Eli Cawley, president of the Utah Minuteman Project, on Monday night called the women "patriot whistleblowers" who should not have been prosecuted and who exposed that undocumented immigrants were applying for government benefits. Cawley also repeated his earlier prediction the case would not go to trial.
"The people who are mongering amnesty will never want discovery in this case," Cawley said, referring to the legal term for respective sides to disclose the evidence they hold.
Some of the people on the list, when contacted by The Salt Lake Tribune last year, said they were legal U.S. residents. The Utah Department of Workforce Services, from which the information on the list originated, has said most of the names on the list were people legally receiving benefits or the parents of U.S.-born children receiving benefits.
Assistant Utah Attorney General Scott Reed on Monday said Bassett and Carson were allowed the expedited court proceedings to avoid drawing demonstrators at the courthouse. Shurtleff said that was not his concern. Instead, he said, after 11 months it was time for the case to conclude.
"You don't need to drag something out with a lot of questions and worries," Shurtleff said. "Let's just get it all done at once."
Shurtleff said his staff briefed Gov. Gary Herbert's staff after the deals were reached. He said he understands why Latino leaders are upset and he plans to speak with them, but rejected claims that Bassett and Carson, who are white, got off easy because the victims were Latinos and immigrants. "You don't treat [defendants] differently because there's a minority involved or there's great public interest," Shurtleff said.