Lt. Governor cleared in criminal probe

Posted at 8:35 PM, Aug 08, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-08 22:50:46-04

FARMINGTON -- The Davis County Attorney has declined to file criminal charges against Lt. Governor Greg Bell, who was under investigation for ordering an audit of Utah's child welfare agency because of a case reportedly involving a family friend.

In a letter released Thursday, Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said "no crimes were committed."

"Complainants were troubled by the factual background and their initial claims justified an investigation," Rawlings wrote in a letter to Bell's attorney. "However, the actual conduct revealed by the investigation fell outside the parameters of the multiple potentially relevant criminal code sections reviewed as part of the screening."

The letter said there is "no evidence that the Lieutenant Governor benefited personally from the audit," and pointed out that the family in question who asked Bell for his help "did not benefit at all in litigation."

Bell was under investigation over allegations he may have used his position to improperly influence the audit of Utah's Division of Child and Family Services at the request of a family friend, who was involved in a child abuse case in Farmington's 2nd District Juvenile Court.

The lieutenant governor insisted he had done nothing improper.

"Our duty as elected officers is to ensure constituents are well-served by administrative processes," he said in a statement to FOX 13 on Thursday. "My actions were simply to ensure the integrity of the process and that DCFS complied with the law."

The audit itself, obtained by FOX 13 under a public records request, was heavily redacted.

A letter sent to Governor Gary Herbert by Department of Human Services Director Palmer DePaulis suggested that the Lt. Governor’s influence in the case was leading to his retirement.

“Lt. Governor Bell involved himself in a DCFS case in which he had a personal interest,” DePaulis wrote in the letter, obtained by FOX 13 under a public records request. “I reassured him that the case was being handled correctly, but he seemed unconvinced.”

DePaulis wrote at the time that it was “within this context” he has decided to discuss his retirement.

“I am now being undermined by the Lt. Governor, and I believe that he will retaliate against me, and try to remove my DCFS director and other staff involved in this case,” he wrote.

The FBI had also conducted an investigation of Bell, which concluded.

"We did not find any violations of federal law," said Melodie Rydalch, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah.

David Irvine, an attorney for the watchdog group Utahns For Ethical Government, said Bell's request for an audit may not have been illegal -- but it didn't look good.

"If you order up a performance audit of a state agency in response to a complaint about how the agency has done something that affects the individual, who just happens to be a friend or neighbor, it really looks like you're bringing the heavy artillery out and training it on that agency in order to get a specific result," he said.

Irvine said the controversy surrounding Bell -- and Utah Attorney General John Swallow -- pressed the issue for a code of ethics for the executive branch of Utah government.