Utah transit agency cooperates with federal corruption probe

Tuesday , April 04, 2017 - 7:45 PM

By MICHELLE L. PRICE, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Prosecutors have agreed not to file charges against Utah’s only large public transit agency in exchange for cooperation with a federal investigation into possible corruption and misuse of public funds by people connected to the agency, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah announced Tuesday.

Leaders of the Utah Transit Authority, which oversees public buses, light rail and commuter trains in six counties, including the Salt Lake City metropolitan area, joined U.S. Attorney John W. Huber in announcing the deal.

It requires the transit authority to be monitored by an independent watchdog for 36 months and share information about any allegations of criminal activity by the authority’s board members, employees, contractors or consultants.

Huber offered few details about the ongoing, long-term public corruption investigation, but said the FBI has been involved.

“There is still a very active investigation into misconduct by individuals,” Huber said.

Transit authority board chairman Robert McKinley said the U.S. Attorney’s Office has investigated “inadequacies and problematic actions that occurred at UTA between 2008 and 2014,” many of which he said came to light in a 2014 state legislative audit. That audit uncovered sweetheart deals and lavish salaries and bonuses for authority executives.

Huber and McKinley, who became the UTA board chairman in September, said improvements have been made since the 2014 audit.

“This agreement lifts a dark cloud from over UTA and sets us on a clear path forward to regain public trust,” McKinley said. “A process that we recognize is going to take time.”

Huber said the deal means that individual lawbreakers won’t have any protection from the authority.

The agreement only covers the agency, not individuals, including present and former board members, employees, consultants and contractors.

Huber did not take questions from reporters after announcing the deal.

UTA officials held their own news conference later Tuesday afternoon, where top agency leaders and lawyers for the agency said they could not offer details about the investigation but emphasized d changes made in recent years.

UTA officials were supposed to bring up any personal conflicts of interest related to UTA project, contractor or other initiative. General Counsel Blakesley said board members and employees did not always report conflicts. When they did, they not always recuse themselves from decision making even if they should have, he said.

Blakesley said UTA’s board, executive leadership and employees with financial oversight must now disclose all of their private interests. Those interests are reviewed by the agency’s internal auditor and counsel, who warn about potential conflicts.

Officials said the agency also created stricter controls and new checks and balances over agency decisions, stopped awarding bonuses to UTA executives and reset pay for UTA executives at levels 10 percent below the median salary level for those in other transit agencies, nonprofit organizations and government agencies.

UTA, which was incorporated in 1970, serves a 1,600-square mile area with more than half the state’s population.

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