Feds say Utah company fired president for military service

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Federal prosecutors say a Park City-based company broke the law when it fired an employee who took leave for military service.

The Department of Justice announced the lawsuit against the Veteran's Trading Company on Wednesday.

Prosecutors say the company fired Naval Reserve Captain Paul Costello from his position as president in July 2013 and denied an application for reemployment later that year. Costello has served as an F-18 fighter pilot and been a part of the Naval Reserve since 1997.

The lawsuit seeks damages equal to the amount of lost wages and other benefits.

U.S. Attorney for Utah Carlie Christensen says federal law gives soldiers the right to retain their civilian employment while they are deployed.

Veteran's Trading Company disputes the lawsuit and filed its own claim against Costello in late April. The suit states that Costello was fired after he missed two mandatory meetings without being excused. It also claims Costello's participation with the company had decreased despite the company repeatedly requesting him to be more involved in day-to-day operations.

The company contends that Costello never disclosed his military leave and continued to collect a salary during the period he claims to have been on active military duty. Company policy states that Costello would have been placed on unpaid leave and reinstated afterward if he had followed proper procedure.

Costello was fired in June 2013 and VTC's lawsuit states he then claimed for the first time to have been on active military duty from October 2012 to September 2013.

"He violated our company policy that he was well aware of," president Jeffrey Brown said. "Our position is he's a fraudster. He fraudulently took money when he shouldn't have ... and he violated his fiduciary duty. Veterans Trading, employing veterans ... is sensitive to that and sensitive to our reputation. We could not tolerate someone doing that and we believe he's trying to hide behind (federal law) after the fact.

"We intend to vigorously pursue our claim."

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