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The clock is ticking for state Rep. Justin Miller.
Top Democrats in Utah are starting to get impatient as they wait for him to defend himself publicly against claims he embezzled Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams' campaign funds.
McAdams quietly fired Miller, who had served as associate deputy mayor, in October and removed him from overseeing his re-election efforts geared toward 2016. A month later, voters unaware of the brewing scandal elected Miller to the state Legislature as a Democrat from Millcreek.
The dispute became public in mid-May, when The Salt Lake Tribune reported Miller had filed a notice that he intended to sue the county for wrongful termination. He alleged his ouster was retaliation for questioning conflicts of interest involving McAdams' relationship with the the Exoro Group, a lobby and public-relations firm.
McAdams' response was quick and seemingly devastating: a news conference where, standing shoulder to shoulder with District Attorney Sim Gill, he released a secretly recorded conversation and hundreds of pages of emails, which include claims that Miller stole $24,000 from the campaign and lied about the finances.
Miller, who managed McAdams' 2012 campaign, has said he kept records showing the payments were a mistake, not theft. But in the ensuing four weeks, he has been silent in the public arena and, behind the scenes, hasn't shown any evidence to close friends, fellow Democratic legislators or party officials, many of whom have started to lose faith in the political operative-turned-officeholder.
House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, is trying to remain neutral and would like to support Miller, but said he doesn't "know what to think."
"I've talked to Justin on a number of occasions and we've been asking him for information," he said. "I want to see something sooner rather than later."
King said the 12-member House Democratic caucus won't remain quiet forever.
"At some point," he said, "we will go from being neutral and waiting for the process to play out to taking a more active role."
That process includes an ongoing criminal investigation.
Salt Lake City police have investigated Miller since McAdams forwarded his concerns to law enforcement in October. That probe is likely to take a few more months. When it is wrapped up, police will screen the case with the Davis County Attorney's Office to determine if charges should be filed.
King said it is unlikely Miller would face an ethics complaint in the Legislature, because he is accused of activity that happened before he won his House seat.
For his part, Miller said only: "I have been consistent this entire time. I know I am being targeted for being a whistleblower and believe that any investigation will come to the same conclusion."
Miller believes McAdams fired him for questioning the legitimacy of a county contract given to the Exoro Group, a consulting firm that also worked closely on McAdams' campaign.
Gill, the district attorney, said he found no merit in that claim and that Exoro won the $100,000 contract in a competitive bid process. Miller is planning a civil suit and, on advice of his lawyer, has released few details of his claims.
Some within the Democratic Party and without, including a few of Miller's friends, have called on him to resign. King said he told Miller he should vacate his legislative seat if he is about to face criminal charges.
The Utah Democratic Party hasn't formally asked Miller to step down, although party Chairman Peter Corroon, McAdams' predecessor as county mayor, said this isn't just a private legal process, but a public one involving elected officials. While saying he understands that this is taking a personal toll on Miller and his family, he counseled that silence isn't the answer.
"If you have done nothing wrong, then show the information and clear your name," Corroon said. "If there is no information to show, you need to cut your losses, admit to any wrongdoing, take your lumps and try to move on with your life."
The Tribune contacted about a dozen friends and associates of Miller, but has yet to find anyone willing to publicly back him in this dispute. Some questioned the logic of filing a notice of a lawsuit when he knew McAdams had accused him of taking campaign funds. And they generally have become more skeptical of his side of the story.