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Front Page » October 28, 2008 » Opinion » Letter to the Editor: Clearing any confusion
Published 2,122 days ago

Letter to the Editor: Clearing any confusion


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By DAVID A. BLACKWELL
Ferron
Emery County Attorney

Editor:

There is still confusion regarding the Drew Sitterud situation. I believe the confusion results from his plea of guilty to reduced criminal charges followed by his Letter to the Taxpayers of Emery County in which he said he "did nothing criminal." That letter was followed by a court-ordered apology in which Mr. Sitterud admits that his first letter was misleading and that he is "guilty of misappropriating public funds." His apology does nothing to dispel the other misleading statements in his first letter. I was directly involved in this case from the initial report of wrongdoing to its conclusion. As Emery County Attorney, I feel a responsibility to clear the confusion as best I can.

This first came to my attention when a county employee, who was bound by our ethics policy, reported that Mr. Sitterud might be getting reimbursed for driving the county car. I asked for documentation. Some time later I was given a copy of a CIB mileage reimbursement check which showed that he was paid when he had driven the county car to a CIB meeting in Salt Lake. An initial investigation produced documents from the CIB and the county which showed that Mr. Sitterud had routinely kept mileage reimbursements when he had driven the county car.

During this investigation, on July 5, 2006, Mr. Sitterud asked me about mileage reimbursements from CIB. I indicated to him that if a county car was used, the reimbursement should probably go to the county, not him. He also told me that he "always marked" that he was using a government vehicle on his reimbursement forms. This is the first time he asked me about this issue. This conversation was witnessed by a county employee.

On Aug. 15, 2006, Mr. Sitterud was confronted about the mileage reimbursements and told that he was being investigated. On Aug. 30, Commissioner Sitterud came to my office and admitted that he had probably kept money that he shouldn't have. He indicated that he was going to pay it back and he thought the amount was $900 -$1,000. The next day, I again met with Mr. Sitterud and informed him that the matter would need to be fully investigated and referred to another agency for possible prosecution. At no time did I tell him he was going to jail. It was at this time that Mr. Sitterud told me that "others" were doing the same thing. He did not say who. Records from the state indicated that no other elected official from Emery County had been reimbursed.

At this point in time, the entire investigation was turned over to the Attorney General.

The investigation found that Mr. Sitterud was issued two separate checks from the CIB for each meeting he attended. One check was a stipend for meeting attendance from which taxes were withheld. A second check was issued for mileage and lodging. Lodging was paid with a county credit card. The CIB reimbursement forms were marked to indicate that he had driven his personal vehicle. The charges filed against Mr. Sitterud were based on the following reimbursements:

1. On 11/03/2005, Mr. Sitterud drives the county car to a CIB meeting in Salt Lake City. He is paid $189.50 for lodging and mileage. He pays Emery County $68 for the lodging expense and keeps mileage reimbursement of $121.50.

2. On 12/01/2005, Mr. Sitterud drives the county car to a CIB meeting in Salt Lake City. He is paid $189.50 for lodging and mileage. He pays Emery County $68 for the lodging expense and keeps the mileage reimbursement of $121.50.

3. On 01/05/2006, Mr. Sitterud drives the county car to a CIB meeting in Salt Lake City. He is paid $189.50 for lodging and mileage. He pays Emery County $68 for the lodging expense and keeps the mileage reimbursement of $121.50.

4. On 02/02/2006, Mr. Sitterud drives the county car to a CIB meeting in St. George. He is paid $281.37 for lodging and mileage. He keeps both the mileage and lodging reimbursement.

5. On 03/02/2006, Mr. Sitterud is a passenger in the vehicle of a SEUALG member driving a government vehicle to a meeting in Moab. Mr. Sitterud claims to have driven his personal car to the meeting and keeps the mileage reimbursement of $110.97. Six months later, on 09/05/06 he reimburses SEUALG for the mileage.

6. On 04/06/2006, Mr. Sitterud drives the county car to a CIB meeting in Salt Lake City. He is paid $189.50 for lodging and mileage. He pays Emery County $68 for the lodging expense and keeps the mileage reimbursement of $121.50.

7. On 05/17/2006, Mr. Sitterud drives the county car to a DWR/RAC meeting in Green River. Sitterud bills both Emery County and Natural Resources for mileage and meals; Emery County pays Sitterud $52.25 in mileage and two meals at $20.50. Sitterud also received reimbursement from Natural Resources for $42.94 in mileage and $15 for meal expense.

At the recent Republican Central Committee meeting, Mr. Sitterud claimed the trip to Green River on May 17, 2006 was actually two trips but that he mistakenly put the wrong date on one reimbursement form. However, the credit card receipts, and all state and county documents, show a single trip made on the May 17 date. This was the basis for Count 3 of the original criminal charges filed by the state.

Contrary to Mr. Sitterud's statement in his letter, he repaid the funds only after he was confronted and told he was being investigated. The reimbursement checks did not stack up on him. The checks were cashed or deposited in his account almost immediately.

It is true that the county has no policy regarding reimbursements for driving a county car using gas purchased with a county gas card. No other elected officials were "unwittingly doing the same thing" as Mr. Sitterud claims. Mr. Sitterud knew how to repay the funds if he had chosen to. He had previously repaid the county for his lodging in Salt Lake on several occasions.

It is true that independent auditors had reviewed county records and found nothing amiss But as Mr. Sitterud should know, those auditors have no access to state records which revealed the problem.

Finally, Mr. Sitterud struck a plea bargain just prior to a hearing in which 12 people were to testify, under oath, about the reimbursements listed in this letter. I do not believe he pled guilty to save taxpayer money. By his letter, Mr. Sitterud tried to mislead the taxpayers and the court. The court was not fooled or amused by his letter and sentenced him to six days in jail, even though the state did not request jail time.

My intent is to clear questions that may remain. You can contact me at 381-2543 or 749-9888.

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October 28, 2008
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