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Utah town mayor focus of funds investigation

By Pat Reavy, KSL | Posted - Nov. 7, 2018 at 6:30 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Sanpete County Sheriff's Office is investigating whether the mayor of the small, rural town of Fayette used city funds to pay utility bills.

The investigation comes on the heels of the town's former clerk being convicted last month of embezzling more than $229,000.

No arrests have been made and no charges have been filed, but investigators served a search warrant at the town offices on Oct. 15 and seized laptops, other electronics and paperwork.

And Fayette Mayor Brenda Leifson's authority to write checks was taken away from her last month, according to Town Council minutes.

One councilwoman says she does not believe the new investigation will rise to the level of embezzlement. Fayette Councilwoman Patricia Murphy called it a case of small town government not "crossing their t's and dotting their i's."

According to a search warrant affidavit filed in Sanpete County's 6th District Court, another Fayette council member approached the Sanpete County Attorney's Office with concerns about Leifson.

Joan Spainhower claimed that the mayor told her she had been paying her son's water bill using town funds and did the same for Spainhower, the warrant states.

When a Sanpete County sheriff's deputy contacted Spainhower on Oct. 9, she told him the Town Council "had some issues with Brenda writing checks to her husband, but that the Town Council had cleared up and taken Brenda’s ability to write checks … away from her. She told me there was no need to file a complaint," according to the affidavit.

The sheriff's office, however, "determined the best course of action would be to investigate the allegation," figure out whether any public funds were being misused, and then present its findings to the Sanpete County Attorney’s Office for review.

According to the warrant, investigators went to Fayette town office to seize laptops and other electronics, as well as records including checks, canceled checks and monthly water bill statements.

Both the sheriff's office and attorney's office declined comment to the Deseret News, saying the case is an ongoing investigation. Leifson did not return calls for comment.

The investigation comes on the heels of the conviction of former Fayette town clerk Tracy Kay Mellor, 63, who was accused of embezzling more than $229,000 from the town over several years. The investigation was started after Leifson, who had just become mayor, confronted Mellor about missing checks.

Mellor was convicted Oct. 10 of three counts of misuse of public funds, a third-degree felony. She is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 21.

Murphy said while she could not fully comment on the investigation into the mayor because it is ongoing, she believes this situation is not the same as the Mellor case.

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In a town of 250 people where everybody knows each other, there are times that proper governmental procedures become lax, said Murphy, who moved to Utah from Washington and said she's been trying to change the mentality.

"I know there is a cross the t and dot the i component of public service," she said. "I told her in advance, 'Don't do xyz' and she did xyz. She figures it's all for the good of the town. And the bottom line is the town did receive benefits for whatever money that she spent. It just wasn't allocated and approved by the town."

Murphy confirmed that the mayor's "check writing privileges" were taken away. According to the Fayette Town Council meeting's monthly minutes, a councilman had raised concerns in September that "he didn’t like the way she was handling the town’s money." The mayor's ability to write checks was then taken away in October, according to the minutes.

Fayette is about 6 miles north of Gunnison.

Contributing: Sam Penrod

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