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PRICE — Former Carbon County Sheriff James Cordova made his first court appearance Friday, five days after his successor was sworn in.
Cordova, 53, is charged in 7th District Court with misusing public money, a third-degree felony, and a class C misdemeanor license plate violation. The charges stem from an investigation into the longtime lawman's alleged misuse of a county-issued credit card.
While he was still sheriff, Cordova repeatedly used a pickup truck and a search and rescue trailer owned by the county to move personal property from his home in Carbon County to his new home in Washington County, according to charging documents filed by the Utah Attorney General's Office.
Cordova used his county credit card 26 times during those trips to fill up the truck's fuel tank in five different counties, racking up a bill of more than $2,000, the charges state. He also admitted that he switched the license plate on the search and rescue trailer with the plate from another trailer before an April 13 trip to St. George, investigators said.
Cordova's attorney, Greg Law, has said in the past that he believes the case against his client arose out of dirty election-year politics. He renewed that claim after Friday's court hearing.
"There's certainly the belief that that's the undercurrent that started this process," Law said, adding that Cordova maintains his innocence.
Cordova was first sworn in as sheriff in 1999 and has been a law enforcement officer for at least 25 years. In early 2013, he announced that he would not seek re-election and later that year purchased a house in St. George. Shortly after the purchase, multiple sources say, he was frequently absent from his office.
Several members of the public complained to the Carbon County Commission that Cordova was spending too much time in St. George. Commissioners asked the Carbon County Attorney's Office to investigate the issue, and prosecutors there turned the case over to the Utah Attorney General's Office to avoid a potential conflict of interest.
Cordova is due back in court March 20 for a preliminary hearing. His case is being handled by 7th District Presiding Judge Lyle Anderson, who typically hears cases in Grand and San Juan counties.
Jeff Wood was sworn in as Carbon County sheriff on Monday.