This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Accusations of impropriety are swirling around the Salt Lake County mayor's office and the charges involve two of the state's top elected Democrats.
The fight pits Rep. Justin Miller, D-Salt Lake City, against county Mayor Ben McAdams, Deputy Mayor Nichole Dunn and her husband, Donald Dunn.
The allegations have spawned a civil lawsuit against the county for allegedly retaliating against Miller as a whistleblower, and a potential criminal investigation of Miller, who McAdams accuses of being unable to account for roughly $30,000 in the mayor's campaign funds. Miller was a top adviser to McAdams and previously his campaign manager, before being fired last October.
McAdams has scheduled a 10 a.m. news conference Wednesday to address the issue.
Both sides agree the rift began last August, but their versions differ thereafter.
In a notice of claim filed Dec. 17, Miller says he was wrongfully terminated two months after having sent the mayor an August email questioning the legality of McAdams' having moved his re-election offices to a space leased by The Exoro Group, a Salt Lake City public affairs firm led by Maura Carabello. Miller said he suspected the move violated campaign finance laws because Exoro had a $100,000 county contract to provide consulting work.
Miller further alleged that he believed Donald Dunn had "an equitable ownership interest in Exoro … and had also received other funds from Salt Lake County as a result of his relationship with Deputy Mayor [Nichole] Dunn and his equitable holdings in other companies that contract with the county."
Neither Nichole Dunn nor Exoro disclosed the relationships, he added. He contends he was fired for being a whistleblower, challenging the ties between the administration and the PR firm.
"Sending that first email back in August was difficult because I knew the implications of it and I knew I would become a target for them to go after me," Miller told The Salt Lake Tribune late Tuesday.
Earlier Tuesday, McAdams said Miller was an at-will employee who did not perform his job satisfactorily and was informed last August that he would need to find a new job. Miller was given time to do so, but before his employment was supposed to end in November, McAdams discovered about $30,000 missing from his campaign account, he said.
"Justin had access to and responsibility for that account. When asked, he could not adequately explain the missing funds," McAdams said, describing the problems as involving "questionable transactions and unclear accounting."
The mayor said he referred both matters to the county district attorney's office. Miller's allegations involving the mayor's office and Exoro were found to be without merit, said Deputy District Attorney Darcy Goddard, because Exoro was not a county contractor at the time. A contract the company had to help with the restructuring of the Office of Township Services had expired, she said.
Goddard said District Attorney Sim Gill wanted an independent agency to review the mayor's charges against Miller involving the missing funds, so he referred the matter to Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings.
Rawlings confirmed late Tuesday that his office was asked to investigate the allegations a few months ago and that the process is underway.
Miller said he not aware of the Salt Lake County district attorney's findings on his allegations, nor did he know anything about a criminal investigation of his activities.
"I've never been contacted by police or Davis County or Sim's office for that matter," he said. "… I'm confident I'm in the right. I don't think I did anything wrong. I think they're going after me for going after them."
Donald Dunn is a longtime Democratic activist. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress and served as state party chairman from 2003-05. His LinkedIn biography says he has been president of The Opinion Group since January after having spent the previous two years as chief fundraiser and development director of the Fuel Freedom Foundation.
There is no mention of The Exoro Group in his résumé. The Exoro Group's website does not list him as a member of its team, nor do state corporation records.
State records do list Donald Dunn as a director, officer and registered agent of The Opinion Group. Nichole Dunn is the company's only other director.
Miller's notice of claim, which includes a charge of racketeering against the mayor's office, sought damages exceeding $788,000 plus attorney's fees estimated at more than $100,000.
It also offered to settle for $263,000 the amount Miller figured he would have been paid if he had lasted the full length of McAdams' four-year term and non-monetary relief that included "mutual non-disparagement."
Such a cease-fire appears impossible now.
Jennifer Dobner contributed to this article.