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FOX 13 Investigates: Audit says Utah prosecutors had private contract but used public employees, resources

Posted at 5:44 PM, Apr 17, 2023

LOGAN, Utah — The former Cache County Attorney and his deputy used other employees and resources there to help prosecute cases they were privately paid for, state auditors found.

The county says it will refer James Swink, who held the elected position of Cache County Attorney from 2009 to 2021, and Tony Baird to the Utah Attorney General’s Office. That office will determine whether to ask the men to repay money to Cache County or if they should be charged with crimes.

The audit only identified them as “Attorney1” and “Attorney2,” but the descriptions make clear they are Swink and Baird, respectively. The two men issued statements refuting the audit findings.

The report by the Utah State Auditor touches on a common practice in Utah cities and its sparsely populated counties. To prosecute cases in their courts, they often contract with prosecutors in other jurisdictions.

The audit says Rich County used to prosecute criminal cases by paying Cache County to do it. Yet, in 2018, Cache County administrators directed $17,600 from Rich County be paid to Swink — on top of the salary he already received in his elected post.

“So that looked to be potentially improper from our perspective,” Utah State Auditor John Dougall said in an interview Monday.

Dougall explained that only the Cache County Council had authority to increase Swink’s pay.

For the start of 2019, Rich County commissioners decided they wanted the contract with Swink himself. Swink also had a contract to prosecute cases in Mendon’s municipal court.

The audit says Swink subcontracted work in those two courts to one of his Cache County prosecutors, Tony Baird. Baird also had a private contract to prosecute in Nibley’s municipal court.

Even though they had private contracts, auditors found Swink and Baird had Cache County employees doing things like requesting police reports, filing court documents and prosecuting cases.

The employees “thought that they were working on county work, but really they were supporting private businesses,” Dougall said.

Some of those employees were paid with a federal grant, auditors said.

Rich County cases were entered into the software system paid for by Cache County to track court cases, the auditors also found.

“There was also some concerns about expenses,” Dougall said, “mileage and so forth that was being used, including the use also of county resources. And one of the dynamics in Cache County is their policy prohibits the use of county resources for any personal business.”

The audit does not offer a dollar estimate for the Cache County resources that supported any private contracts. A review of vendor data on a state website shows Rich County paid Swink $110,181 from 2019 through 2021. Mendon paid him $32,980 from 2015 through 2021.

Nibley supplied FOX 13 records showing it paid a company owned by Baird $33,005 from 2018 through 2020.

Swink resigned as Cache County attorney in 2021. The audit says Baird resigned as auditors started their work. Both men now work as felony prosecutors in Weber County. Neither would agree to an on-camera interview with FOX 13.

Baird sent the station an email saying, “There are always two sides to a story. I am surprised by the report’s failure to include several important facts, its lack of context, and the conflation of facts together to press a desired narrative.”

Swink provided a statement of FOX 13’s content-sharing partner, The Salt Lake Tribune.

“The Audit released by the Utah State Auditor,” the statement said, “makes several recommendations to the County to improve its policies related to employees, grants, and outside work. It references ‘possible misuse’ of public resources, but does not reference available facts and information that refute this allegation and other assertions in the report.”

Steven Burton is a criminal defense attorney who said Weber County may want to reassign Swink and Baird until the attorney general finishes its investigation. The audit raises trust questions with Swink and Baird, Burton said.

That’s important, Burton said, given defendants typically rely on prosecutors to turn over all the evidence against them and work in good faith during plea negotiations.

“So now that defense attorneys have specifics (about the audit),” Burton said, “we’ll have to take a look at each of our cases and see if we’re relying on information that could be called into question.”

Weber County Attorney Christopher Allred said Baird and Swink remain on the job. In an email to FOX 13, Allred called the pair “excellent lawyers.”

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