Salt Lake AmeriCorps director gets probation for fraud, theft
Courts • Richard Parks failed to verify volunteer work at home for a polygamous sect's outcast "Lost Boys."
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A Salt Lake County AmeriCorps director indicted last year for improperly giving out money to workers at a home for a polygamous sect's outcast "Lost Boys" avoided prison time last week.

A judge on Friday ordered Richard Parks to spend 36 months on probation and pay $13,907 in restitution for wire fraud and theft. The sentence comes after Parks pleaded guilty to both charges in February as part of a deal with federal prosecutors. In exchange for the pleas, prosecutors dismissed 23 other counts that were part of a March 2012 grand jury indictment.

Parks' case began when prosecutors alleged that he misused resources in his role as Salt Lake County programs administrator for Community Resource and Development. Among other things, Parks' administrative job put him in charge of AmeriCorps, a federally-funded program that aims to help communities and create pathways to employment.

In a plea statement from February, Parks admitted that from 2007 to 2011 he falsified time sheets for three southern Utah AmeriCorps employees without verifying that they worked the corresponding hours. He also admitted to misusing educational grant money by giving it to people who may not have worked enough hours to qualify for it.

Though Parks was based in Salt Lake City, AmeriCorps personnel were performing service hours at The House Just Off Bluff, a St. George home for young men, or "Lost Boys," who had been cast out or had left the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. But the home — which closed in 2008 for unrelated reasons — was an independent nonprofit, which was not run by AmeriCorps.

Parks' indictment included one count related to funding for people working at The House Just Off Bluff, according to prosecutors.

The final plea deal mentions three volunteer employees who worked for AmeriCorps. Those employees were doing service hours at the The House Just Off Bluff, as well as one other nonprofit organization in southern Utah, according to defense attorney Rebecca Skordas.

Skordas said Wednesday that Parks, personally, "had nothing to do" with The House Just Off Bluff.

Skordas also said Parks' troubles began when the AmeriCorps program expanded to rural southern Utah, where distance made it difficult to administer. Parks also did not personally benefit from the falsified records or misused funds, Skordas said, though his career has ended in disgrace and he is devastated.

Skordas added that Parks dedicated his life to helping disadvantaged people and was described by a judge at sentencing as an "extraordinary" man who made a mistake.

Most of Parks' restitution will be paid to the federal government to reimburse AmeriCorps funds. However, $417 will go back to the county, for what Skordas described as an improperly expensed personal trip.

jdalrymple@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jimmycdii