SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell has been accused by a prominent cabinet member of interfering in a child abuse investigation and undermining the agency that was handling the case.
Documents released by the Utah Department of Human Services show executive director Palmer DePaulis offered his retirement to Gov. Gary Herbert in protest.
"I am now being undermined by the Lt. Governor and I believe that he will retaliate against me," DePaulis wrote Herbert on Dec. 17, according to documents released late Thursday.
DePaulis accused Bell of having a "personal interest" in the child welfare case. Utah legislators said Friday that Bell was acting on behalf of a neighbor who complained of mistreatment by the government.
The people involved and the nature of the allegations have never been publicly revealed. Documents and correspondence released to The Associated Press were heavily blacked out and provided no details.
DePaulis has since said that he doesn't intend to retire. He wrote in his December letter that the case "was handled appropriately and took its proper course," despite Bell's intervention.
The documents don't reveal an outcome in the case.
Bell was expected to issue a response later Friday, said Nate McDonald, a spokesman for the governor's office.
Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings confirmed Thursday that his office and the FBI are investigating abuse-of-power allegations against Bell. The FBI declined comment.
Herbert, meanwhile, told reporters Thursday that DePaulis is expected to retire - an assertion the 68-year-old department head is contradicting.
"Palmer has not made any decision about retirement," Department of Human Services spokeswoman Elizabeth Sollis said Friday.
It wasn't immediately clear why Herbert and DePaulis disagreed on his retirement intentions. But Herbert also told reporters Thursday that he stands by his lieutenant governor.
"I've got all the confidence in the world for Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, who has not done anything inappropriate," Herbert said. "He is honest as the day is long and is a man without guile."
DePaulis is a widely respected public servant in Utah - a Democrat who has worked for four Republican governors and a former attorney general. He was a tax commissioner for Govs. Mike Leavitt and Olene Walker. He worked for Gov. Jon Huntsman as head of the former Utah Department of Community and Culture.
When Huntsman cut short a second term to become U.S. ambassador to China, his successor - Herbert - appointed DePaulis to be head of the Department of Human Services.
DePaulis offered to retire as early as Nov. 14 in a meeting with Bell and two top aides, then complained he was being pushed to leave by Dec. 31, his letter to Herbert said.
"I now find myself at odds with the Lt. Governor, and he expresses no confidence in me," DePaulis wrote.
Other correspondence released Thursday highlighted the disagreement between DePaulis and Bell, although the emails were heavily redacted and provided little context.
"I'm just not buying it, Palmer," Bell wrote early on in an emailed titled "Highly Confidential and Personal."
In another email. Bell wrote of "two colliding alternate realities. It's very sad to me."
Bell has commissioned an audit of the department's Division of Child and Family Services. A 47-page copy of the audit released to The Associated Press was heavily redacted and omitted key findings of the child welfare case. But the copy did show that division officials strongly objected to the findings in the case.
Utah legislators were hard-pressed Friday to make sense of the dispute. They said it doesn't compare to the troubles involving Attorney General John Swallow, the subject of another federal investigation. Swallow has been accused by a Utah businessman of being part of a bribery scheme.
"It again raises the question for us as legislators and the executive branch whether we need to focus more attention on some rules and some ethics that will help prevent some of that going forward," Senate President Wayne Niederhauser told reporters.
He vouched for Bell's "outstanding" character, saying he's "one of the top people as far as doing the right thing."
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said Bell is "one of the most ethical people I know."