Commissioner Drew Sitterud spends six days in detention center
Emery County Commissioner Drew Sitterud appeared in court on Sept. 30 before Judge Douglas Thomas in the Seventh District Court in Castle Dale. Patrick Nolan was present representing the state and Sonny Olsen lawyer for the defendant, Drew Sitterud.
Sonny Olsen spoke first and said there are discrepancies in the presentencing investigation report which he would like to address.
Nolan said there is a procedure to follow if there is a claim of inaccuracies. "It is not appropriate now in this setting to claim discrepancies, they needed to be addressed ahead of time," said Nolan.
Olsen said he had just received the report on Wednesday (Sept. 24) and he was under the impression that he could present the inaccuracies at the sentencing hearing.
Nolan said that is not what he recalled from the conversation, but if Olsen would like to bring up any discrepancies then Ron Wilson, who helped prepare the PSI report was there and would be available to answer to any claimed inaccuracies.
Olson said in the PSI report it claimed that Sitterud had reluctantly entered into his pleas. Olsen said that is not true and the plea bargain statement written by Sitterud had his personal statement which said he had driven an Emery County vehicle to meetings and had been reimbursed as if he had driven his own private vehicle. According to the PSI it said he had falsified mileage reports when in fact he had not done that he just signed a pre filled in post card at the CIB meetings which indicated the use of a private vehicle.
The PSI report indicated that Sitterud has been a commissioner for eight years and should know how mileage reimbursement works. Olsen said however this was a new event for Sitterud. He hadn't dealt with being reimbursed mileage before for driving a county vehicle.
The PSI report stated that several employees have been affected negatively by the events with Sitterud and the working environment of the commission has been affected. Olsen said he would like to know who those employees are and how they were affected and he would like to interview and talk to them.
Olsen said within the PSI report it stated that Sitterud seemed more arrogant than innocent. The PSI report referred to a letter to the taxpayers in Emery County that Sitterud had submitted to the Emery County Progress and the Emery County Review newspapers. Olsen said portions of the letter had been taken out of context and he submitted a full copy of the letter to the taxpayers which had appeared in the papers to Judge Thomas. Judge Thomas took a few minutes to read the letter.
Olsen wondered why the whole letter wasn't included in the report. Olsen stated the writer of the PSI report indicated that Sitterud made a mockery of the plea agreement with that letter to the taxpayers.
Olsen took exception to this part of the PSI stating that the PSI document was compiled to determine restitution and input on the sentencing of the defendant. Olsen contended that Sitterud had pled guilty. He had not intended any wrongdoing and in doing so it was "highly regrettable" on Sitterud's part. Olsen said Sitterud's statements were consistent with the terms of the plea agreement.
The PSI report contends that Sitterud took little responsibility for his actions and blames his wrongdoing on there not being a clear reimbursement policy.
Olsen said he disagrees with the PSI report when it states Sitterud has cost the county money for 22 months worth of investigation. Olsen said he and his client have met with the Attorney General's office whenever they requested they do so. "We did everything we could do, it's not correct he's responsible for a 22 month investigation," said Olsen.
Olsen also said the report referred to Sitterud not making any effort to pay the money back for 10 months. Olsen said Sitterud had tried to pay the money back and discussed the matter with then County Clerk Bruce Funk. Funk then left office and Sitterud approached the new Clerk Brenda Dugmore who instructed him to speak to the County Attorney about the reimbursement. He approached the County Attorney and the County Attorney reportedly said, "It's too late, you're going to jail." Sitterud then decided he would take the matter into his own hands and figured out what he owed and paid that amount to the county in September of 2006.
Judge Thomas then called upon Nolan for his response. Nolan said these types of statements should not have been heard in a sentencing hearing. "Sitterud waived all those rights at the time of pleading guilty. We are here to proceed with sentencing and counsel has been quibbling with the content of the report," said Nolan. Nolan asked Ron Wilson from the Adult Probation and Parole from the Fillmore office to speak to the court. Wilson said all of the information for the PSI report came from the Emery County Sheriff's Office, State Attorney General's Office, County Attorney's Office and from Mr. Sitterud. "That's where all the information came from included in the report. We will stand by the report as an accurate representation," said Wilson.
Wilson indicated he had talked to Mr. Sitterud on Wednesday morning and Mr. Sitterud minimized his involvement, he avoided direct questions. There has been a lengthy investigation and Mr. Sitterud is the cause for all this concern. Wilson was concerned about the minimization of Sitterud's actions as outlined in the letter to the taxpayers that Sitterud had submitted to the newspapers. Wilson said, "I asked him...I believed you knew what you were doing and Mr. Sitterud replied, 'yes, I did.' That's the first time he's wanted to take responsibility for what he's done and I suggest he does that in court today."
Wilson outlined the matrix for sentencing according to the APP guidelines and what they recommend. They recommended a 30 day sentence with work releases. They recommended payment of security fees based on two counts.
"In theft matters we typically look for signs that are criminal in nature. If you blame others, don't admit to guilt; we look for those things as criminal motivation. We recommend the defendant take a class in criminal thinking errors. We recommend he write a letter of apology; we didn't see an actual admission in his letter to the papers," said Wilson.
Judge Thomas stated the state recommended no jail time in the plea agreement. The PSI report made its own recommendations, but Judge Thomas stressed the sentencing is up to him after review of all the court documentation along with the PSI report. The Judge stated the state shouldn't argue for jail time in light of the plea agreement recommendations.
Nolan said the APP is free to make their own recommendations as they choose.
Olsen said he wanted to present evidence. Judge Thomas said what is the factual statement you want to report. Olsen said he accepts the PSI report with his observations.
Judge Thomas said the facts of the case are what is important, not opinion. Olsen wanted to call witnesses to attest to Sitterud's good deeds and character. These letters are also attached to the PSI report. Nolan said these letters were not useful as they do not pertain to the sentencing.
Olsen said they are relevant to sentencing.
Nolan said they are not in a quest for fact finding. Brenda Dugmore is the Clerk/Auditor, Judge Thomas asked her if she had facts that need to come forth as they pertain to sentencing. Dugmore said, "No I don't really have anything to add."
Nolan outlined the recommendations from the state for sentencing. He said when they were in court on Sept. 2 that the defendant pled guilty and stepped up and acknowledged and accepted responsibility, but then a week later, Mr. Sitterud issued a letter to the tax payers where he presented his side of the story. The contents of the letter concerned the Attorney General's office for several reasons. The fact that he says he did nothing criminal flies in the face of what he said in court the week before. Laying blame and saying it was other people's fault is the reason the PSI reported what it does.
Nolan said the taxpayers of Emery County have placed the commissioner in a place of trust and have a right to expect more, when a commissioner drives a county car, he should not be reimbursed for that meeting.
The CIB pays a stipend for meeting attendance which is taxed, but these are separate checks.
If driving a county car, a request for mileage reimbursement is not appropriate. In one case he rode with someone else to the meeting, but he still received a reimbursement and cashed it. Nolan asked all those factors be taken into account along with the PSI report.
Judge Thomas said there is not an argument with the underlying facts of the case. Each count pled guilty to is punishable by one year in the Emery County jail and a fine of $2,500 for each count. The facts indicate on seven occasions, Mr. Sitterud went to various board meetings and took a county vehicle; not his own. On one occasion he rode with someone else and incurred no transportation costs of his own. He submitted a form for mileage reimbursement and those mileage reimbursements went into his bank account. "There is no dispute to those facts," said Judge Thomas.
Judge Thomas said his second observation was the state, being aware of those facts, recommended no jail time be imposed. The plea also said the judge is not bound by that recommendation. The court has the discretion to honor that recommendation or not.
His third observation was after what had occurred had come to court and prior to the time the PSI report was prepared that Mr. Sitterud caused a letter to be published to the tax payers of Emery County. Judge Thomas indicated by writing that letter Sitterud indicated the only wrong he had committed was that he didn't put county issues aside and see who to pay the money back to.
Judge Thomas said he could see why those who prepared the PSI report would see that Sitterud had not accepted culpability for his actions. The publishing of that letter created a new nuance in the case. Judge Thomas said Sitterud is not accepting the knowledge of wrongdoing. That is why the APP recommended 30 days in jail.
Judge Thomas said it is important for the court to try to sentence in an appropriate fashion as cases which are similar. In a normal case, this type of letter would not have been published. Public officials are responsible for serving the people.
Judge Thomas ordered that the defendant be sentenced to one year in the Emery County jail, jail time suspended upon successful completion of the terms of probation. The defendant will be on probation for a period of two years under the supervision of the Seventh District Court. The defendant will serve six days in the Emery County jail beginning forthwith. The defendant will pay a fine of $2,500 due and payable on Oct. 30 of this year. The judge ordered no restitution paid as the defendant had reimbursed Emery County. The judge determined it would make no sense to hold the defendant responsible for reimbursing the state. If Emery County ends up forwarding the money reimbursed them by Sitterud to the state, that is between Emery County and the state to resolve.
The defendant must submit to and pay for DNA testing. The defendant must complete counseling in criminal thinking errors at Mountain View counseling or another appropriate party. The defendant is ordered to write a letter of apology to the citizens of Emery County to appear in the paper. The defendant is to clarify the nature of the events and to apologize for the letter to the taxpayers he submitted which implied no wrongdoing had taken place. The defendant is to appear for a review hearing on Sept. 15, 2009 at 9 a.m.
In talking to County Attorney David Blackwell after the hearing he stated remarks made by Sonny Olsen in the course of the hearing were untrue. Where Olsen had said Blackwell had reportedly told Sitterud it was too late to pay the money back and he was going to jail are untrue. Blackwell said he didn't say that. On July 5, 2006, Blackwell was outside talking to another county employee when Sitterud came up and started asking him about reimbursement policies. Blackwell had told him at that time that anyone driving a county car to meetings should not be reimbursed. CIB policy is that anyone driving to a meeting in a county car is not reimbursed. Mileage reimbursements are not taxed. Meeting attendees do receive a stipend for attendance from a separate check. This stipend is a taxed item.
Commissioner Sitterud was confronted by Commissioner Kofford concerning mileage reimbursements and after that was when Sitterud came to Attorney Blackwell and told him he thought he had kept money he shouldn't have kept. He also wanted to know if he was being investigated. He wondered if he should pay the money back and Attorney Blackwell said that would be a good start. The next day Blackwell met again with Sitterud to let him know that even though Sitterud had plans to pay the money back, the investigation would still continue. Blackwell would not make the decision to prosecute, the investigation would be turned over to the Attorney Generals office to handle as they saw fit. Attorney Blackwell said he has given copies of his conversations with Sitterud to Olsen.