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Former elected official suspected of misusing money says he did nothing wrong

Posted at 9:58 PM, Aug 17, 2023

LOGAN, Utah — Although two state agencies have found problems with how he paid himself and others with money from other jurisdictions, former Cache County Attorney James Swink says it was all approved

“Was this approved by the county executive? Was it done according to statute? It was,” Swink said in an interview Wednesday with FOX 13. “This extra work and extra pray program was set up by a competent attorney.”

A state audit released in April and a report released last month by the Utah Office for Victims of Crime both say Swink and Cache County violated county ordinances and likely state law in how it handled money. The latter office has told Cache County it has to improve financial controls or risk losing about $500,000 a year in grants meant for law enforcement and crime victims.

Cache County might also have to repay about $78,000 from a federal grant.

“Due to some of the ways that monies were mishandled in the county attorney's office in the past,” said David Zook, the current Cache County executive, an elected post that functions similar to a mayor, “there are some concerns from some granting agencies about grant funds that they would normally provide to us.”

Zook said he is working with the Office for Victims of Crime to improve those financial controls and clarify what money the county might have to repay. The pay practices themselves stopped years ago, Zook said.

The issues have a root in a practice Swink said began before he became the Cache County attorney in 2009. Cache County contracted with city governments and with neighboring Rich County to prosecute cases in their courts. Some cities and counties elsewhere in Utah also contract with another government agency or private attorneys for prosecutions.

But in Cache County, some of the contracts were with Swink or his deputy personally. Yet auditors found Cache County resources were used for those other jurisdictions, including using Cache County employees to find police reports and make computer entries.

Swink said the arrangements were all approved by the then-Cache County executive. That’s an elected position similar to a mayor. State statute gives the executive authority to approve contracts and make financial decisions.

“The decision was made in consultation with the county executive that it would be done that way,” Swink said.

Cache County employees who worked on cases for those other jurisdictions received extra pay, Swink said. The payments were confined to the county attorney’s office, where Swink was the top man until he resigned in 2021.

The county’s finance director received an extra $200 per month and a few hundred more per quarter for processing the payments, according to the report from the Office for Victims of Crime. The state audit said that the county council was the body required to approve pay raises for employees.

Swink received money directly from other local governments – at least $140,000 over the last three fiscal years he was in office, according to Utah’s transparency website.

The Office for Victims of Crime report also said employees who voiced concern about the extra pay program were met with a hostile work environment.

Both Swink and Zook deny that. Zook says an investigation by the county found no retaliation.

Zook, though, in a separate interview with FOX 13, said the county did find its whistleblower protections need to be stronger. As for the pay program, Zook said it was not handled appropriately.

“It wasn't a good way to handle the money,” Zook said.

Zook said the county finance director relied on advice from Swink that the disbursements were OK.

“And we're in the process of implementing several more improvements to the way that we handle the public finances,” Zook said.

“Our number one goal,” he added, “is to make sure that the public knows that their dollars are secure.”

The Cache County Council convened Tuesday in what was labeled an emergency meeting. The only agenda item called for going into a closed session for, “Discussion of the character, professional competence or physical or mental health of an individual.”

FOX 13 sent a letter to the council chair and asked it be entered into the minutes. The letter objected to closing the meeting if the council planned to discuss any of the financial issues raised in the audit or a letter from the Utah Office for Victims of Crime. The council closed the meeting anyway.

Both the audit and letter suggest Swink may have violated a felony statute against misusing public money. The current Cache County attorney told FOX 13 in April it would ask the Utah Attorney General to review the matter.

Swink on Wednesday said he has not received a subpoena, been interviewed by criminal investigators nor asked to repay any money.

“And that statute was not violated,” he said.

Swink now works as a prosecutor in the Weber County Attorney’s Office. When asked whether Swink made any mistakes, he replied, “No, it was beneficial for both other jurisdictions and for our office and, again, for the people of Cache County.”

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