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Federal government suing Utah for reportedly misusing grant money
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Federal government suing Utah for reportedly misusing grant money

Utah lawmakers are looking to update price-gouging law amid the coronavirus pandemic. (PHOTO: KSL Newsradio, file.)

UTAH STATE CAPITOL – A whistleblower’s complaint leads to the federal government suing Utah.  The suit claims Utah officials lied to the feds to get grants, then misused the money.

In February, an inmate at The Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison filed a private lawsuit claiming 37 current and former state workers got grants from the Bureau of Justice Assistance after the economic downturn of 2008.  The Department of Justice decided to look into these allegations, and have since filed a lawsuit of their own.

In order to receive any of that money, the funds had to be used in a certain way.  Federal officials say the money was not to be used for “supplanting,” or replacing state money that was used for a similar purpose.  According to the complaint, federal officials had already disqualified other states from getting money because of supplanting and were reassured by more than a dozen Utah officials that it wouldn’t happen here.

However, federal officials say that’s exactly what happened between 2009 and 2011.

Former prosecutor Kent Morgan, who is not involved in this case, says it’s extremely rare for one government entity to sue another.

He says, “What usually done is somebody picks up a phone and says, ‘This isn’t right.  Do you want to correct it?’”

The accused defendants worked for many different state agencies, including the Attorney General’s Office, Juvenile Justice Service, Utah Department of Corrections, Utah Commission of Criminal and Juvenile Justice and the Department of Public Safety.  The suit claims the defendants all signed grant applications and were in charge of making sure the information in the applications was truthful.  It reads that all of these people either knew, or should have known, the information was false.

Morgan says, “In this case, I think they’re putting those alternatives in to make sure that the government agency doesn’t come back and say, ‘Oops.  We just made a mistake.  Sorry.  Let’s move on.’”

Morgan expects this case to possibly get heated.  He believes parties are more sensitive when government entities sue each other.

“The politics behind this is why people tend to be more sensitive in these cases,” he says.

Is there any chance this lawsuit could lead to criminal charges for any of the accused?  Morgan doubts it.  He says it’s common for people to file a civil complaint after criminal charges are filed, however, “The other way around is rare, where somebody files a civil case and then those findings are used in a criminal case.  The standard of proof is different in a civil case,” he says.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office issued a statement to KSL, saying they already cooperated as far as they legally can with the whistleblower’s lawsuit.  The statement also says, “The allegations of wrongdoing occurred before AG Reyes or his leadership team took office.

 

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