Lt. Governor defends audit that spawned criminal probe

Posted at 8:05 PM, Feb 22, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-22 23:58:58-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Lt. Governor Greg Bell is defending his actions that launched a criminal investigation by the Davis County Attorney and the FBI into whether he ordered an audit to interfere with a child abuse case.

In a lengthy statement issued to FOX 13 on Friday night, Bell said he has received numerous complaints about Utah's Division of Child and Family Services in his decade as an elected official. He claims that he initially passed off this complaint to the head of the Utah Department of Human Services.

[Link: Lt. Governor Greg Bell's statement]

"However, as additional information emerged, I could not reconcile the widely divergent accounts from DCFS and the family. If the family's account was true, I would have been irresponsible not to investigate further," Bell wrote.

The Lt. Governor said that is when a decision was made to order an audit.

"This was a neutral, objective way to get to the bottom of the conflicting claims," Bell wrote. "The audit focused not on the truth or falsity of the underlying claims against the family, but on what policies and procedures DCFS had in place to protect families, whether DCFS had adhered to its policies and procedures, and whether existing policies and procedures were adequate to protect Utah families."

FOX 13 obtained a copy of the audit under a public records request. The document is heavily redacted; entire pages have been blacked out.

Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said Thursday his office and the FBI were investigating whether "governmental power and public monies were abused, outside the scope of legitimate authority, to thwart the outcome of a singular child abuse case."

The family that requested help from Bell is reportedly a family friend. On Friday, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said he understood it to be a neighbor. He and several members of the Utah Senate leadership defended Bell, saying they did not believe he has done anything improper.

"I think he was one of our top people as far as doing the right thing," said Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy.

Bell served in the Utah State Senate prior to becoming Lt. Governor.

"I can't talk about the allegations, I don't know if they're founded or not," said Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, who succeeded Bell in the senate. "But if I were to put it in transportation terms, I believe Greg Bell is so straight you could use him for template to stripe the freeways with!"

Speaking to reporters in the Senate President's office, Weiler said he and other members of the legislature are contacted frequently by constituents, critical of DCFS actions.

"From everything I've seen, I think Lt. Governor Bell was making sure that a friend and a neighbor was not being mistreated by a government agency. I don't think that's an inappropriate motivation for a government official," Weiler said.

Sen. Lyle Hilliard, R-Logan, questioned the need for the Lt. Governor to issue an audit.

"If someone called me and said that a highway patrolman had been very rude to them, I wouldn't call a legislative auditor. I'd call the Department of Public Safety," he said.

Bell is the second member of the executive Branch to face FBI scrutiny. The U.S. Department of Justice recently announced it was investigating business dealings involving Utah Attorney General John Swallow.

On Friday, the U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah would not confirm or deny any investigation into Bell. The existence of the FBI investigation was revealed by the Davis County Attorney.

The scandals involving two of Utah's top political leaders have taken their toll. Legislation dealing with ethics have already been drafted by lawmakers. Weiler is running a bill, as is Sen. John Valentine, R-Provo.

"The hole is elected officials," Valentine said. "What do you do with elected officials? So the proposal is to have an independent ethics commission for those elected officials. The same as you have for the legislative branch, and the same as we have for local government."