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New Utah AG outlines his priorities

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Posted at 9:24 PM, Jan 11, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-12 11:24:07-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Sean Reyes is settling into his first elected term as Utah Attorney General, outlining his priorities for the next two years.

In an interview with FOX 13 after his inauguration, Reyes reflected on his election as the first ethnic minority to hold a statewide office in Utah. Normally dry affairs, Reyes' inauguration included Taiko drums and a performance by his Filipino musician father (a nod to his Spanish/Filipino/Hawaiian heritage).

Reyes vowed to continue to restore public trust in the Utah Attorney General's Office, which has been battered by scandal in recent years. He was originally appointed to the position by Governor Gary Herbert after then-Utah Attorney General John Swallow resigned in the face of scandal.

Swallow and former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff are facing criminal charges after a series of corruption investigations. Reyes said he believes that in the past year, the state's largest law firm has finally been able to move past the troubles of his predecessors.

"I hope so, and really, within the office, it hasn't been a distraction," he told FOX 13. "Our folks are just focused, dedicated public servants. I'll let the legal process carry itself out."

Other major issues facing the attorney general's office have resolved themselves: the state abandoned its legal fight against same-sex marriage after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear its case. Utah also extracted itself from a legal fight over immigration laws.

Now elected instead of appointed, Reyes has a chance to advance his priorities for the office. The attorney general said he wants more focus on prosecuting white collar crime, which he called an "epidemic" in Utah.

"We'll continue to do what we've been doing, which is continue to fight against white collar crime that robs so much money from so many Utahns," he said. "Fight against violent crime and predators who prey on our children on the Internet and on the streets."

Human trafficking is another priority Reyes said he wants to focus on, revealing that he recently traveled to South America to participate in a sting operation with a non-profit group.

"I think (people) think about it only in terms of international issues," Reyes said. "But here in our very state, there are people living in modern-day slavery. We have got to do something about it."

Beyond his own initiatives, Reyes acknowledged there is a heavy caseload the attorney general's office is facing. He has already sought pay raises for lawyers and staffers within the office from the legislature, and is pushing for a technology infrastructure upgrade.

Lawmakers have been pressing the Utah Attorney General's Office to file a lawsuit against the federal government for control of public lands. In an interview with FOX 13, Reyes would not commit to filing that lawsuit.

"We feel committed to pushing the cases we do have, and to look at evaluating the merits of filing a lawsuit, whatever that might look like," he said.

Reyes is also looking at how to handle the myriad of problems within the polygamous border towns of Hildale and Colorado City. A priority of then-Utah Attorney General Shurtleff, Reyes has recently moved to extract the state from the nearly 10-year-old land battle over the FLDS real-estate holdings arm, the United Effort Plan Trust.

Reyes said he is pleased the judge has appointed a board to begin overseeing the land issues. However, the attorney general said he is not abandoning the issue. The office is in the midst of an appeal of a federal judge's ruling that essentially decriminalized polygamy itself.

Reyes signaled an interest in focusing on crimes within polygamous communities.

"We will certainly look to see if there are opportunities to prosecute cases -- if we find witnesses who come forward and work with us and can testify to cases of abuses and sexual exploitation of young children," he told FOX 13. "We are looking at those types of cases, as well as white collar crimes and fraud."