OGDEN -- A state probe into allegations that Envision Ogden engaged in political corruption during the November 2007 city council elections was sparked by a Standard-Examiner article, a Utah Department of Public Safety official said Monday.
The 31-page report from DPS' Investigations Bureau was obtained by the Standard-Examiner through a public records request.
The report states the investigation originated from a Standard-Examiner reporter who alleged that two city council candidates, Blain Johnson and Royal Eccles, had received about $20,000 in campaign contributions through illegal means.
The donations were made by Envision Ogden, but funneled to Johnson and Eccles through a second organization known as Friends of Northern Utah Real Estate.
The investigation was likely prompted by an April 5, 2009, article that appeared in the Standard-Examiner and not from an actual complaint filed by the newspaper's reporter, said Brian Hyer, a spokesman for DPS.
The story quoted officials with several companies who said they gave money to Envision Ogden in 2007 with the understanding the funds would be used solely for local economic development activities.
Several of the officials also said they were surprised their donations went to FNURE and ultimately into the campaign coffers of Johnson and Eccles.
The DPS report also lists Dan Schroeder, a Weber State University professor, as a complainant against Envision Ogden. State Rep. Neil Hansen, D-Ogden, said he also filed a complaint with the attorney general's office.
The April 2009 report prepared by DPS Investigator Jim Vaughn lists Johnson and Abraham Shreve, a Realtor and the head of Envision Ogden, as suspects.
Names of several other suspects have been redacted from the report.
Johnson declined Monday to discuss the probe because he has not reviewed the DPS report. Eccles could not be reached for comment. Shreve said he is unaware of anything happening with the investigation.
The investigation examined a number of potential offenses, including violation of city campaign finance disclosure laws, communication fraud and money laundering, according to the report.
Investigators presented their findings to state Assistant Attorney General Scott Reed on June 30, 2009, who declined to file charges.
"Scott Reed said that he couldn't see how they (Envision Ogden) had necessarily devised or used a scheme or artifice to defraud another or to obtain from another money, property or anything of value by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, promises or material omissions," says the DPS report. "The fact that the Ogden city attorney, the FBI and U.S. Attorney, Lieutenant Governor's Office and now the Utah State Attorney General had declined to do anything with this case it will be closed."
However, the case has apparently since been reopened. Reed told the Standard-Examiner the investigation into the complaint is ongoing but declined to comment further.
The complaint stems from a $120-per-plate dinner Envision Ogden held at the Ben Lomond Hotel in February 2007 ostensibly to promote outdoor recreation and welcome Amer Sports Corp., which had just relocated to the city.
Money from the fundraiser was funneled to FNURE to bolster the campaign warchests of Johnson, who is no longer on the city council, and Eccles, who failed to win election.
Envision Ogden donated $1,500 directly to Johnson's campaign and $20,700 to FNURE, IRS records show.
FNURE then provided $10,990 to Johnson and $9,700 to Eccles from the funds it received from Envision Ogden.
DPS investigators reviewed an IRS report for Envision Ogden that listed 29 donors contributing $1,000 or more to the organization and 24 donors giving more than $50 but less than $1,000. The IRS report also shows $16,855 in contributions to Envision Ogden of less than $50.
Several of the contributors were contacted by investigators and none were aware their donations were going to a political action committee.
"Many were governed and restricted from contributing to any political interests by federal regulations," the report says. "All said they have internal policies prohibiting the company from donating to candidates or political issues because of conflicts of interests or issues that may arise from customers with opinions that oppose that of a particular person or issue."
DPS investigators interviewed Jeff Lucas, who is listed in IRS documents as the secretary/treasurer for Envision Ogden. Lucas said he didn't know much about FNURE and was instructed by Shreve to cut checks for Johnson's campaign.
In addition, investigators talked with Chris L. Dallin, a spokesman for McKay-Dee Hospital, about the hospital's $1,000 contribution to Envision Ogden. The hospital was contacted by Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey about being a sponsor at the Ben Lomond dinner, the report said.
Dallin told investigators that McKay-Dee and Select Health, its insurance division, split the $1,000 donation, each giving $500. Select Health wanted to gain a stronger position with Godfrey and get his consideration as an insurance option for municipal employees, the report states.
Godfrey said Monday that he regularly solicits funds for political candidates and issues. He also believes the complaint from Schroeder and Hansen is politically motivated.
Dallin said there was no mention nor was it ever asked if Envision Ogden was a political action committee, adding that McKay-Dee has strict guidelines prohibiting it from taking political stands or endorsing political candidates and specific issues,
Investigators also interviewed Tracy H. Duckworth, an official of UBS Financial Services, about its $6,047 donation payable to the Ben Lomond Hotel for the Envision Ogden fundraiser. Duckworth said had UBS known Envision Ogden was a political action group it wouldn't have donated. UBS is closely regulated by the federal Securities Exchange Commission and is prohibited from participating in or contributing to any PACs or political issues of any kind.
Hansen and Schroeder will hold a news conference at 4 p.m. today to discuss the DPS report in the downstairs auditorium of the Weber County Main Library, 2464 Jefferson Ave.
This topic is being discussed at the Weber County Forum.