SALT LAKE CITY -- After months of refusing to resign from office and maintaining his innocence in the face of criminal investigations, Rep. Justin Miller stepped down and pleaded guilty to a felony-level fraud charge.
Miller, D-Salt Lake City, appeared before a judge in 3rd District Court on Friday within minutes after he was formally charged with communications fraud, a second-degree felony.
He admitted to stealing more than $24,000 from the campaign coffers of his former boss, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.
Miller turned himself in to the Salt Lake County Metro Jail just before 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 15. and has been released.
In a statement issued through the House Minority Caucus, Miller said:
“I understand the charges against me, and I take full responsibility for the mistakes I have made. My failure to communicate in a timely and transparent manner led to the loss of trust with my friend and colleague, Mayor McAdams. While this mistake occurred prior to my legislative service, I believe elected officials should be held to a higher standard. It is that standard that has led me to choose this difficult, but necessary course. Today I resign my position as elected Representative of House District 40.
While there is no way to change my unfortunate choice, I am working to making it right. I am actively engaged with leaders at the legislature to ensure the positive changes I have helped to bring about for my Millcreek constituents will endure. I am continuing to cooperate with the ongoing federal investigation into Salt Lake County. Most of all I am taking this time away from public service to give my family back the balance and peace they deserve.
I am humbled by the compassion and outpouring of support from my Millcreek community in these last months of uncertainty. To them I say I am sorry and ask for their forgiveness. While I may no longer be in the legislature, I will continue to fight for our community and our state.
My family and I ask that our privacy be respected through this time. We thank all those who have and continue to support us.”
Miller did not return messages seeking comment. His attorney told FOX 13 that the plea deal was not in exchange for any cooperation or testimony in any other investigations.
However, if Miller pays back restitution (believed to be around $30,000) before he is sentenced on Dec. 18, the charge will drop to a third-degree felony.
If Miller is sentenced to probation and successfully completes it, his criminal record will only reflect a conviction for a class A misdemeanor.
Davis County prosecutors have agreed to remain silent on any sentencing recommendations, going with whatever Adult Probation & Parole suggests to the judge. Miller faces a possible prison sentence of 1-to-15 years.
According to court documents obtained by FOX 13, Miller admitted that from April to May of 2014, he wrote a check to himself from McAdams' campaign account as reimbursement for expenses.
From the plea agreement:
When McAdams first leveled accusations against Miller back in May, Miller accused the Salt Lake County Mayor of corruption, claiming McAdams was involved in some questionable dealings with a public affairs and lobbying group. McAdams denied any wrongdoing and the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office deemed the accusations "without merit."
On Friday, McAdams issued this statement in response to Miller's guilty plea:
“As the victim of Justin’s criminal actions, I’m grateful that he will answer for them with his guilty plea to a felony criminal charge. Justin stole money from me and the people who made donations to support my campaign. He betrayed the trust of a lot of people. It’s important that he be held accountable for his wrongdoing.
But it’s not a happy day for anyone. It was a sad moment for me when I discovered evidence of Justin’s theft and turned this matter over to the police a year ago. It was not, however, a hard decision.
Now I look forward to what I hope is a quick and just resolution of this criminal case, including a final order of repayment by Justin to my campaign of the funds he took over a two-year period."
Miller's Democratic colleagues in the Utah House of Representatives called for him to resign in June, but he refused. He continued to appear at interim sessions of the Utah State Legislature and told FOX 13 on numerous occasions he was not planning to resign.
Miller told FOX 13 in July that he was cooperating with investigators, including the FBI. It was unclear Friday if the federal investigation into Miller (and his counter-claims against McAdams) was still ongoing. Miller claimed in his statement that an investigation was ongoing. Miller's attorney, Steven Shapiro, told FOX 13 that Miller had been questioned by FBI agents a couple of months ago and he remained cooperative.
The FBI on Friday declined to comment on its investigation. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said Miller "again attempted to deflect from his own felonious misconduct by claiming he is cooperating with an 'ongoing federal investigation into Salt Lake County.'"
"Based on my conversations with those agencies, Mr. Miller’s claim is incorrect and I have no reason to believe there is an investigation of Salt Lake County," Gill wrote in an email.
Davis County prosecutors, who handled the Miller investigation for Salt Lake County, declined comment on Friday.
On Utah's Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats expressed sorrow at Miller's downfall. House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said he spoke with Miller several times this week as the state lawmaker learned he would be charged and planned to resign.
"I think he feels badly about it. I think in hindsight he wishes he had acted in a different way," Rep. King told FOX 13.
King said there was no way Miller could represent his district having pleaded guilty to a criminal charge.
"I hope it's over. I hope it's over for him, I hope it's over for the legislature. I'd like to see us be able to move on. It's important that people have confidence that we're up there representing them well, that we're there to do the people's work and we do it honestly, that we do it with a real intent and effort to act in good faith," he said.
House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, issued this statement:
“I am disappointed to learn that Representative Miller has been charged with a crime. Although these actions pre-date his arrival to the Legislature, as elected officials it is our job to be accountable for our actions and respect the integrity of the institution for which we’ve been elected. Representative Miller has made it clear to me that he is cooperating with the proper officials and taking responsibility for his actions. I respect his decision and accept his resignation. Please remember that he has a family and respect their privacy during this difficult time.”
Miller officially will leave office on November 11. The House Minority Caucus said it was to ensure House District 40 had a voice in the Utah State Legislature until a replacement is selected. Democratic delegates in Miller's district, which represents the Millcreek area, has scheduled a special election that night to pick his replacement. The nominee will be sent to Governor Gary Herbert's office for confirmation.
Already, two candidates announced their intentions:
Former Rep. Lynn Hemingway is also rumored to be considering a run for the remainder of Miller's term, which ends next year.
Read the plea agreement from Justin Miller here: