Ex-Utah County Commissioner charged with communications fraud and engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity after he allegedly posed as LDS Church leader

1661897Former Utah County Commissioner Gary Jay Anderson and businessman Alan McKee have been charged with three counts of communications fraud and one count of engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity for allegedly posing as LDS Church leaders in an attempt to defraud a construction company out of $1.2 million.

All four charges filed against Mr. Anderson and Mr. McKee in 3rd District Court by the Utah Attorney General’s Office are second-degree felonies, which carry the potential penalties of one to 15 years in prison.

Anderson and McKee Posed as LDS Church Officials From 2011 to 2015

According to an article from the Salt Lake Tribune, investigators wrote in the charging documents that Mr. Anderson and Mr. McKee impersonated LDS Church officials from 2011 to 2015 in order to attract investors to what the pair said was a plan to establish a rail line and an industrial park on LDS Church land in Elberta, Utah.

Apparently, employees of the LDS Church’s land management corporation have acknowledged that they discussed a potential rail service with Mr. McKee, but that the proposal stalled in 2013 after Mr. McKee failed to follow through.  Mr. McKee had been introduced to the Church’s officials by several Utah County commissioners, including Mr. Anderson.

McKee and Anderson Defraud Ames Construction

During the same time Mr. McKee was in talks with the LDS Church, he was also corresponding with Ames Construction.  According to investigators, Mr. McKee sent Ames letters on LDS Church letterhead, which purported to be from people connected to the Church and its land management corporation.  The letters allegedly discussed the industrial park and showed support for Mr. McKee’s involvement in the project, even going so far as to praise Mr. McKee’s earlier work on the project.

As part of the correspondence with Ames was a 2013 email from a Yahoo account that Mr. McKee claimed belonged to “Eric Peling,” who supposedly worked for the Church’s land management company.  The email apologized that the substance of the communication was not on official letterhead, but that the LDS Church was “making financial payouts” in connection to the rail line and set meetings to finalize a $4 million payout from the Church to Ames Construction and Mr. McKee.

Ames’ regional vice president, Mark Brennan, met with Mr. McKee and someone who identified himself as “Mr. Peling,” but LDS Church officials later said there is no church employee by that name, investigators claimed.

While Mr. McKee was trying to garner Ames participation in the rail line and industrial park, Mr. McKee was also speaking with Mr. Brennan about a personal business deal to purchase the LDS Church’s surplus farm equipment at a discount.  Mr. McKee claimed to be a “preferred buyer” for the Church’s equipment and said he could act as a go-between for Mr. Brennan and the Church.  Mr. Brennan paid Mr. McKee $110,000 for the equipment, but it was never delivered.

Throughout the negotiations with Mr. McKee, Mr. Brennan received numerous phone calls from a man identifying himself as “Stevenson,” which continually reassured Mr. Brennan that the Church was committed to the pending rail line project and the equipment deal.  However, after listening to two of the recorded conversations between Mr. Brennan and “Stevenson,” investigators determined that the voice of the caller was actually Mr. Anderson.

Anderson and McKee Defraud McKee’s Friend and Fellow Churchgoer

In addition to defrauding Ames, investigators claim that Mr. McKee also defrauded a fellow churchgoer out of $750,000 after Mr. McKee claimed to be a “preferred buyer” of foreclosed farm and construction equipment.  However, the business that Mr. McKee said he could buy the equipment from never existed.  Even still, someone claiming to be the president of the company called Mr. McKee’s friend and sent him numerous text messages regarding the purchase of the equipment.  Again, investigators determined that the purported president was in fact Mr. Anderson.

Investigators seized the cellphones of Mr. McKee and Mr. Anderson and found text messages between them, coordinating communications with the alleged victims.  Mr. Anderson at times told the victims he was Mr. McKee’s attorney; he later told investigators he was not Mr. McKee’s attorney, but received $10,000 per month from Mr. McKee for “consulting” services.

Investigators reviewed Mr. McKee and Mr. Anderson’s finances and found several transactions between them.  They found that Mr. McKee was shifting money around his accounts and accounts to his business, Ophir Minerals and Aggregate, LLC.  The company was named by the Utah County Commission as “business of the year” in 2011, while Mr.  Anderson was serving on the Utah County Commission.

LDS Church Releases Statement on Charges

LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins released a prepared statement Monday regarding the charges.

“Two individuals have been charged with fraud for claiming to be or represent (former) Bishop Gary E. Stevenson during their business dealings.  Elder Stevenson was serving as the presiding bishop of the church at that time.  He does not know these individuals, has never spoken with them, and was completely unaware of their activities,” Hawkins said in the statement.  “The church alerted authorities as soon as it learned of the matter, and Elder Stevenson has provided a statement to prosecutors confirming he was not involved in this brazen scheme, which attempted to misuse the good name of the church and the office of the presiding bishop,” Hawkins said.

* Photo cred.: deseretnews.com

Update: All Charges Dismissed Against Former Provo Councilman Steven Turley

In February of this year, the last of ten felony charges against former Provo council member Steven Turley was dismissed.

Steve Turley Charges DroppedIn February of this year, the last of ten felony charges against former Provo council member Steven Turley was dismissed. Previously, we wrote about the dismissal of three counts of communications fraud in Mr. Turley’s case in 2013. Through the entire judicial process Mr. Turley has always maintained his innocence, claiming, “I did nothing wrong. I went about regular business.” According to Turley, the charges against him were motivated by “political enemies,” and an overzealous Utah County Attorney’s Office.   “They tried to create victims,” he said. “As we go through this list of alleged victims, they have voluntarily provided statements, such as, ‘We were never defrauded.'”

In 2011, around the same time Turley was charged criminally, Provo city mayor released a separate civil ethics investigation report, which found that Turley had violated the Municipal Officers’ and Employees’ Ethics Act, and as a result he should be dismissed from the council. The report’s author, retired 4th District Judge Anthony Schofield, admitted in his report that he was under time constraints and that he could only find five instances where he found Turley violated the ethics code. Even still, Schofield’s investigation found that Turley failed to disclose ownership in property that the council was taking action on. Schofield also reported that Turley also failed to disclose his interest in swapping U.S. Forest Service land for property in Rock Canyon. Turley was “disappointed” by Schofield’s report and said that he believed Schofield was not given enough time to look into the accusations or Turley’s response.

Even in light of Schofield’s report and the laundry list of charges against him, Turley pressed on, eventually winning dismissal of all charges against him. However, he has paid a heavy price in his fight to vindicate his himself. Provo mayor John Curtis, who once spearheaded the movement calling for Turley’s resignation, has said that the former councilman has paid a heavy price and deserves a fresh start. “For a lot of people, they’re happy to have this over. I’m very pleased for Steve. I’m very pleased for his family.” When asked if he might ever return to politics, Turley said he would continue “to serve the community,” but it might be by taking his kids for a walk, and not through politics. “Quite frankly, it has devastated our family,” and “it’s a shame that we had to go through that.”

Mr. Turley’s case provides a cautionary tale for politicians engaging in real estate transactions or other business dealings. Ultimately Mr. Turley’s conduct even if not illegal or unethical drew the ire of his fellow politicians and result in the demise of his political career. It was only after approximately four years in the judicial system that Mr. Turley has been able to vindicate himself, even though the time has taken its toll on Mr. Turley and his family.