Mayor accuses lawmaker of stealing campaign cash; lawmaker accuses mayor of corruption

Posted at 4:44 PM, May 13, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-14 12:30:05-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Accusations of corruption and theft have been leveled between the Salt Lake County Mayor and a state lawmaker.

Mayor Ben McAdams has accused Rep. Justin Miller, D-Salt Lake City, of stealing more than $30,000 from his campaign; Miller has accused McAdams of retaliating against him for blowing the whistle on questionable government contracts with a lobbying firm.

The allegations between the two Democrats spilled out Wednesday morning in a news conference called by McAdams, who declared that Miller "has lost my trust and confidence." The mayor accused Miller, his former re-election campaign manager and associate deputy mayor, of taking thousands from his campaign accounts.

"Personally? I felt betrayed. While turning the information over to law enforcement was a sad moment for me, it was not a hard decision," McAdams told reporters. "For me and my administration, trust is paramount."

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams speaks at a news conference Wednesday, accusing Rep. Justin Miller of stealing money from his campaign accounts.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams speaks at a news conference Wednesday, accusing Rep. Justin Miller of stealing money from his campaign accounts.

Miller, who has been elected to serve the Millcreek area in the Utah House of Representatives, claims McAdams retaliated against him and fired him in October 2014 for whistleblowing.

"I feel that what I did was the right thing," Miller said in an interview Wednesday with FOX 13.

In a notice of claim filed with Salt Lake County, Miller said he became aware of "certain dealings between the Mayor and The Exoro Group, which Mr. Miller believed to be in violation of state and county ordinances and policies to include those that govern conflicts of interest and purchasing, as well as a violation of various state laws."

Miller claims he raised questions about McAdams' re-election campaign leasing office space from Exoro Group, knowing that they had been awarded contracts with the county. In his notice of claim, Miller claimed Deputy Mayor Nichole Dunn signed one of those contracts.

"Mr. Miller also knew that a member of Exoro's team, Donald Dunn, whom Mr. Miller believed to also have an equitable ownership interest Exoro, is related to Deputy Mayor Dunn; specifically, Mr. Dunn is Deputy Mayor Dunn's spouse," the notice states.

Miller claims there were no conflict-of-interest disclosures involving the Dunns, The Exoro Group and Salt Lake County. He has accused the county of wrongful termination and racketeering, leveling corruption allegations at Mayor McAdams and Deputy Mayor Dunn.

Read Rep. Miller's notice of claim here:

Maura Carabello, an owner of The Exoro Group, acknowledged Dunn had done some work in the past on some projects related to the firm, but said he has never been an employee. She defended her firm's work with the county.

"The services we provide are on a competitive, open RFP process. It's very transparent," Carabello said. "Unfortunately, Rep. Miller lacks credibility in making these claims."

At McAdams' news conference on Wednesday, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said Miller's wrongful termination claims were investigated and found to be "without merit." He declined to comment further citing pending litigation.

"I stand by my filing that I made with Salt Lake County," Miller told FOX 13. "I'm disappointed with the lack of response to the corruption and racketeering charges."

Rep. Justin Miller, D-Salt Lake City, in an interview with FOX 13's Ben Winslow.

Rep. Justin Miller, D-Salt Lake City, in an interview with FOX 13's Ben Winslow.

McAdams said Miller made admissions to misappropriating campaign funds in a conversation recorded by the mayor. In response to a public records request, Salt Lake County released that recording to FOX 13 on Wednesday. On the recording, Miller is called into the mayor's office and confronted by Donald Dunn, whom Miller said worked on the re-election campaign as a fundraiser.

"Justin, sloppiness is one thing. Stealing is another," Dunn is heard saying.

"Go on...," Miller states on the recording.

Miller is questioned about $24,000 in funds used to purchase catering for an event as well as tens of thousands of other money that is unaccounted for. Dunn asks if he stole it. Miller replies: "I not going into it with you, Donald."

McAdams calls Miller's actions "dishonest" and demands repayment. Miller states on the recording he will produce documentation and ultimately expects an apology from the mayor.

"I am never going to apologize for wondering why in the hell you wrote yourself a $24,000 check and never fessed up to it!" McAdams snaps. "You think I owe you more? Bulls---!"

"OK," Miller said.

Listen to the recording here:

On Wednesday, McAdams walked away from the podium and refused to answer questions from FOX 13 about the county contracts or whether he was retaliating against Miller.

Rep. Miller would not answer if he stole any money from McAdams.

"I would like to answer that question," he told FOX 13. "I really would. But once somebody starts making accusations against you, you retain legal counsel. That's what I've done."

The Salt Lake City Police Department confirmed to FOX 13 it has an open investigation into the theft allegations. Once completed it would be turned over to Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings to screen for any potential charges.

County political parties react

In a statement, Salt Lake County GOP Chairwoman Suzanne Mulet weighed in on the political scandal involving the two Democrats:

"It is too premature to weigh in on who is right or wrong in this situation. While I recognize this is a conflicting situation between two high profile parties, it is concerning and believe the residents of Salt Lake County deserve transparency- because transparency matters.

Because of the individuals involved and allegations being made, it does leave questions that should be answered. I look forward to the legal resolution of this matter as quickly as possible."

Salt Lake County Democrats Chairwoman Clare Collard emailed FOX 13 to say:

"This is an internal employment issue, and I trust the investigation process."