This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A trusted employee and her daughter systematically siphoned off more than $1 million over a decade from something called the Utah Communications Authority. If that name doesn't ring a bell, you're not alone, but it doesn't change the fact that the $1 million was your money, assuming you are a Utahn with a phone.
And that makes this another example of quasi-governmental agencies that spend our money outside the direct view of elected officials who are supposed to be watching over it.
The UCA was created by the state before the 2002 Olympics to oversee 911 services and other emergency communications. It now serves agencies in 25 of Utah's 29 counties. It receives millions of dollars from local governments and from its piece of the 76-cents-per-month 911 surcharge on every cell phone and land line bill.
And here's where it gets dicey. This agency is managed by a 25-member board. The board is not elected, but it is appointed by elected officials at the state and local levels. There is no one elected official to hold responsible for the UCA. We've seen this before. The part-time board answers directly to no one and relies heavily on whatever the staff tells them.
The employee, Patricia Nelson, was the executive assistant to UCA Executive Director Steven Proctor. He's gone, and so is UCA's contracted accounting firm. A criminal investigation is ongoing. This is ugly, but the public can do little other than watch.
Even before this latest revelation, Utah legislators were already trying to bring UCA into line. Rep. Brad Dee pushed through legislation this year to have the governor appoint the board chairman instead of having the board choose. The bill also requires UCA to use competitive bidding in awarding contracts, which, stunningly, it didn't have to before.
And there was even an ongoing legislative audit of UCA that, unfortunately, didn't include looking at whether any employees were charging $363.19 at Toys R Us on UCA credit cards. It does now.
Nelson enjoyed such ridiculous freedom that she charged a liquor store purchase to UCA and then went back later and changed the state liquor store entry to "Codale Electric." Oh, and she also changed the amount.
So how did she get caught after 10 years? It wasn't because any auditor spotted it. She got sloppy and left a printout of charges in a printer for another employee to notice. She has to be regretting not using one of those five UCA cards to buy her own printer.
Nelson still may face criminal charges, but she already has agreed to pay back $2.3 million, including interest and punitive damages. (If she can really do that, maybe the state should give her more money to manage. She's a solid gold investor if she turned $1 million into $2.3 million over the last 10 years, all while buying liquor and toys.)
Legislators smelled trouble here, and they should follow that scent. Ultimately, outfits like UCA need more transparency, and they need someone who answers to the public.