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The top prosecutor in Washington County is weighing an investigation into whether a Kane County commissioner should face criminal charges after allegations raised in a state audit that he engaged in self-dealing in receiving improper payments for his work on a service district.
Audits released last week found Kane County Commissioner Jim L. Matson served as a paid trustee on a special district board created by the commission. While on the board, the audit found, Matson took excessive pay and also contracted with a consulting firm he owned, generating for him tens of thousands of dollars, including for work unrelated to district responsibilities. These payments were made by district checks signed only by Matson, auditors found.
The audit called for an independent investigation into possible criminal charges.
Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap told The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday that he was asked by Kane County Attorney Rob Van Dyke to take the case. He declined to provide details of the investigation.
"You could presume that it would be a investigation like any other," Belnap said. "Like any other, we wouldn't talk about it while it's pending."
He later added that he was assessing whether his office has "the resources and ability" to conduct an investigation.
"I believe that any investigation would follow all leads wherever they go," he said.
Belnap said he wasn't sure how an investigation would take place. Given that his office doesn't often handle cases outside Washington County, he said his office would need to figure out how it would work with law enforcement in Kane County to conduct the probe.
"We're just now beginning our process of what that means and what we'll be doing," Belnap said. "Since this isn't typical, we don't really have a process. So we're figuring that out now."
Van Dyke handed off the matter because of a perceived conflict of interest with the County Commission, Belnap said.
State Auditor John Dougall, who called for the independent investigation, in an interview last week laid out the concerns auditors had "on various fronts" with special districts created by the Kane County Commission.
"State law allows no more than $5,000 to any given board member any given year," Dougall said.
Matson received $7,500 in duplicate checks written on the same day by the commissioner to himself, which Dougall said should be returned.
"When consulting took place and the bills were there, we took issue with some things that seemed to be with private development, some things that had to do with roads, that had nothing to do with the district," Dougall said.
The audit found Matson's consulting firm was paid $33,352 for work.
Auditors also took issue with the work of Kane County Clerk/Auditor Karla Johnson, who was hired at two districts. The audit accused Johnson of receiving excessive payment for her work and said the district hired her without going through a competitive process. She didn't respond to a request for comment.
Matson told The Tribune he was "absolutely ignorant" that the arrangements identified in the audit were improper.
"We've taken steps since this issue has come up to make sure that we follow state statute and regulation and do it to the letter," Matson said.