SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah attorney general's office will "start from the ground" in its reopened investigation into whether an Ogden civic group misled contributors about the money it raised that ended up going to political candidates.
Scott Reed, the chief of the attorney general's criminal division, told The Associated Press that he was looking at allegations that Envision Ogden raised the money to promote the city's outdoor amenities but funneled it to "political guys" through another organization.
At first, Reed said he didn't think the case merited prosecution. An investigative report released by the Utah Department of Public Safety to Utah newspapers in recent days quoted Reed telling state investigators in 2009 that he didn't believe the allegations amounted to fraud.
Reed said he hesitated because the allegations were politically motivated and he was overwhelmed with more important cases in 2009, but now has time to take a closer look.
"We want to take a look at a couple of additional things," Reed told the AP. "We're taking this back into our shop. We have the capacity to do this and start from the ground. The case is active and pending."
State investigators said Envision Ogden raised more than $20,000 from a banquet dinner in 2007 to promote outdoor recreation. Records show Envision Ogden transferred the money to an anonymous group, Friends of Northern Utah Real Estate, which split it between Blain Johnson, who has left the council, and failed candidate Royal Eccles.
Investigators said Friends of Northern Utah Real Estate "clearly violated" a city disclosure law that prohibits one person or organization from making another's campaign donation. "It seems probable" Envision Ogden also violated the law, the report concluded.
Reed said the two-year statue of limitations on the city's misdemeanor law has expired, ruling out any prosecution that the city earlier declined to pursue. The players could be liable for a state fraud violation, which has a four-year statue of limitations, he said.
Reed has made no decision and said he wasn't certain how much money Envision Ogden raised at the banquet or how much of the total it gave to political candidates.
Envision Ogden belatedly registered as a political action committee during the course of the state police investigation, and Reed said that plays into his review of the case.
DPS investigators said they couldn't determine who was operating Friends of Northern Utah Real Estate but that it shared the same address as the law firm of Johnson, the former city council member who received $10,990 from the banquet. Another $9,700 went to Eccles.
Envision Utah head Abraham Shreve told the Standard-Examiner he was unaware of any investigation, while Johnson declined comment.
In 2009, when state investigators asked Shreve to name the operator of Friends of Northern Utah Real Estate, they said Shreve replied, "that's Blain Johnson."
The 31-page report from DPS' Investigations Bureau has been obtained under open-records requests by The Salt Lake Tribune and Standard-Examiner of Ogden and posted to the newspapers' websites.
Envision Ogden has a website promoting Ogden's outdoor amenities.
Its banquet donors, including McKay-Dee Hospital, told investigators they would not have bought $120 dinner tickets if they knew the profit was going to a political campaign.
UBS Financial Services picked up the $6,000 banquet bill at Ben Lomond Hotel in February 2007 and told investigators it was worried it might have violated a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rule for contributing to a political cause.