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Felony charges were filed Monday against a former Utah County commissioner and a prominent businessman who allegedly posed as authorities from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even creating a phone account in an apostle's name, as part of a two-year scheme to defraud a construction company and two individuals of about $1.2 million.
In charges filed Monday in 3rd District Court, investigators wrote that former Utah County Commissioner Gary Jay Anderson, 68, of Springville, and Alan Dean McKee, 56, of Benjamin, impersonated LDS Church officials from 2011 to 2015 to entice investors in what they said was a plan to set up a rail line and industrial park on the church's land in Elberta.
Employees of the LDS Church's land management corporation acknowledged that they had discussed a rail service McKee had proposed, which would reach land the church owned in southern Utah County. McKee had been introduced to the church corporation's officials by Utah County commissioners, including Anderson, and McKee said he also had connections to potential users of the property, investigators wrote.
But those officials said the proposal stalled in 2013 as McKee had not followed through with contacts or any concrete plans, investigators wrote.
During that time, McKee was corresponding with Ames Construction, which investigators describe as a large, national construction company that does work in Utah. McKee sent letters to Ames, using church letterhead, purporting to be from people connected to the church and its land management corporation. The letters discussed the industrial park and showed support for McKee's involvement in the project, praising McKee's earlier work on the project, investigators wrote.
One of the letters was written under the name of Gary E. Stevenson, who was presiding bishop of the church at the time overseeing the church's real estate and business holdings and now is an apostle of the church. The letter authorized McKee to hire a firm to build six buildings at the proposed industrial park, a contract worth millions of dollars, investigators wrote.
A 2013 email from a Yahoo account traced to McKee claimed to be from "Eric Peling," an employee of the church's land management company. The employee apologized that the correspondence was not on official letterhead and said the LDS Church was "making financial payouts" in connection to the rail line and set meetings to finalize a $4 million payout from the church to Ames Construction and McKee.
Ames' regional vice president, Mark Brennan, met with McKee and someone who identified himself as "Peling" but LDS Church officials later said there is no church employee by that name, investigators wrote.
While McKee was trying to secure Ames Construction's participation in the rail line and industrial park proposal, he also was speaking with Brennan about a personal business deal, to buy the LDS Church's surplus farm equipment at a discount. McKee claimed to be a "preferred buyer" for the church's equipment and said he could act as middleman for Brennan, whom investigators describe as a longtime friend of McKee. Brennan paid McKee $110,000 for the equipment, which he planned to use at his personal ranch in Wyoming. It was never delivered, investigators wrote.
Throughout his negotiations, Brennan received multiple phone calls from a man who identified himself as Stevenson and reassured Brennan that the church was committed to the pending rail line project and Brennan's equipment deal. Brennan recorded at least two of the calls, and investigators determined the voice of the caller actually was Anderson's.
Ames Construction spent "hundreds of thousands of dollars" on preparation and engineering for the proposed rail line and industrial park, investigators wrote, including at least $374,000 paid to McKee to cover expenses McKee claimed he incurred in connection to the project.
A third victim, unrelated to Ames Construction, also was swindled in McKee's used-equipment proposals, investigators wrote. The friend, who attends the same LDS Church ward as McKee, invested $750,000 after McKee claimed he was a "preferred buyer" of foreclosed farm and construction equipment from a Federal Bankruptcy Court receiver. McKee and his friend planned to buy the equipment at a discount and sell it at a profit in a business that McKee said would generate "millions."
The business that McKee said was holding the equipment does not exist, investigators wrote. But someone claiming to be the president of that company made phone calls and sent text messages to McKee's friend, from a phone number investigators traced to an account that had been set up in Gary Stevenson's name. The bill, meanwhile, was paid for with a debit card tied to McKee, and voicemail left on the friend's phone recorded a voice that once again was identified as Anderson's.
Meanwhile, the friend continued paying McKee for equipment that wasn't delivered. McKee told his friend that Ames Construction also was buying equipment through him and had taken equipment that didn't belong to them.
Investigators seized the cellphones of McKee and Anderson and found text messages between them, coordinating communications with the alleged victims. Anderson at times told the victims he was McKee's attorney; he later told investigators he was not McKee's attorney, but received $10,000 per month from McKee for "consulting" services.
Investigators reviewed McKee and Anderson's finances and found several transactions between them. They found that McKee was shifting money around his accounts and accounts to his business, Ophir Minerals and Aggregate, LLC. The company was named by the Utah County Commission as "business of the year" in 2011, while Anderson was serving on the County Commission.
Anderson, who had served on the commission for many years, left office at the end of 2014.
Investigators wrote that Utah County officials asked the Utah attorney general's office to begin an investigation after they learned of the "strong personal and professional relationship" between the two men.
McKee and Anderson each were charged in 3rd District Court with three counts of communications fraud and one count of engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity.
All the charges are second-degree felonies punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
The attorney general's office, which filed the charges, claimed in court papers that both defendants are seen as "pillars of the Utah County community," and asked a judge to set bail for each at $500,000, cash only.
But a judge set McKee's bail at $150,000, cash only. Anderson's bill was set at $25,000, cash only.
McKee was booked into the Salt Lake County jail on Monday afternoon. An initial court appearance was set for Feb. 25.
Anderson was booked into the Utah County jail on Tuesday, but bailed out later that day. His initial appearance was set for March 8.