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Federal authorities will determine whether to prosecute a former employee of the Utah Communications Authority (UCA) and her daughter who have admitted embezzling $1 million of public money over a 10-year period.
In an unusual twist, a civil suit was brought against former administrative assistant Patricia Nelson and her daughter, Crystal Evans, before a criminal probe could take place. In most fraud cases, a criminal inquiry precedes any civil claims.
But Nelson and Evans admitted in a civil lawsuit settlement to charging personal expenses on the agency's credit cards and covering their tracks by manufacturing phony papers.
The criminal investigation is ongoing in West Valley City, where UCA is based. But on Monday, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said his office agreed with the U.S. attorney for Utah that federal authorities would make the call on whether to bring criminal charges against Nelson and Evans.
"We have joint jurisdictional interests," Gill said. "Some of the money is federal money."
A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office confirmed the criminal investigation but had no further comment.
UCA is overseen by a 25-member board but has little direct state oversight. It was created in 1997 under a different name and played a major role in coordinating emergency communications and interagency radio communications among northern Utah public safety agencies during the 2002 Winter Olympics. It has expanded to include 25 counties and 147 public safety agencies.
Third District Judge Paul Maughan, overseeing the civil litigation, has ordered Nelson and Evans to pay the agency more than $2.3 million, including interest and punitive damages.
Whether the civil suit will complicate the criminal probe is unclear. But West Valley City Police Chief Lee Russo said the investigation is proceeding as it should.
"I'm not aware that we have run into any problem that has made the investigation more complex by the civil arrangement," he said.
Russo added that the UCA board has been "very cooperative" in providing information to investigators.
The agency's former director, Steven Proctor, resigned in early April. He is not accused of wrongdoing. UCA continues to seek a new director.
A 2010 state audit, relying on a private contractor's check of annual statements, raised red flags about the agency but did not detect the embezzlement, which continued through 2015.
Last week, state Auditor John Dougall, who was elected in 2012, said he has "rebooted" his oversight team to go beyond audit statements to more of a "policing" role.