SALT LAKE CITY — Almost two years after a state audit of the Utah League of Cities and Towns found improper spending of taxpayer dollars, prosecutors have filed seven felony charges against the league's former executive director, Ken Bullock.
Kenneth Hugh Bullock — who up until Tuesday was working as a policy adviser and lobbyist for Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski — is charged with three counts of misusing public money, two second-degree felonies and a third-degree felony; three counts of theft, two second-degree felonies and a third-degree felony; plus pattern of unlawful activity, a second-degree felony.
Bullock, 60, resigned Tuesday to "deal with these charges," said Biskupski spokesman Matthew Rojas.
Prosecutors allege Bullock used trust funds, which elected league officials said they weren't aware of, to benefit himself and Michelle Reilly, the league's former chief financial officer who was charged last fall with misusing public money, a second-degree felony, accusing her of embezzling more than $30,000 for personal use.
The charges came after a state audit concluded Bullock charged the league's credit card to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars to watch his son, who attended Stanford, play basketball out-of-state.
Bullock has said he always repaid those charges, but state auditors reported the charges as improper, saying the charges amounted to personal loans to Bullock.
When we started to look at the collective behavior of what came through between (Michelle) Reilly and (Ken) Bullock, we couldn't see how we could charge one and not the other. They were engaged in similar behaviors.
–Salt Lake County D.A. Sim Gill
Although auditors did not recommend a criminal investigation into Bullock, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said his office is separate from the auditor.
"When we started to look at the collective behavior of what came through between Reilly and Bullock, we couldn't see how we could charge one and not the other," Gill said. "They were engaged in similar behaviors."
Charging documents say Bullock made personal charges to the tune of $69,551 between 2012 and 2016 on the league's card, but only repaid $45,857 by way of nine reimbursement checks.
Prosecutors also say Bullock misused two trust funds linked to the league — money auditors discovered while auditing the league, but league officials said they weren't aware of. State auditors later determined the trusts contained public money and should dissolve.
Bullock wrote "unauthorized compensation" checks from those trusts to Reilly for $83,975 between 2009 and 2016, issued separately from Reilly's regular salary payments, according to the charges.
After he resigned from the league, Bullock "continued signing checks and withdrawing cash" from the trusts for personal use, charging documents state. Between January 2017 and June 2017, Bullock signed checks payable from himself and withdrew cash to the tune of $4,134, the charges say.
The league is a quasi-governmental entity funded mostly from membership fees from cities and towns. The agency lobbies at the Utah Legislature, conducts research, and offers training to elected officials.
Bullock referred comment on the charges to his attorney, Jim Bradshaw.
Bradshaw told KSL he was "incredibly frustrated" with Gill's office, calling the charges against Bullock "factually incorrect" and "politically motivated."
"This is a very misguided prosecution, and Ken Bullock is not guilty of any of these charges," Bradshaw said. "I want to make it clear that the D.A.'s office is flat wrong, just factually incorrect about many of these things they allege in these documents."
Asked to elaborate on the accusation the charges are politically motivated, Bradshaw said, "For whatever reason, I think the D.A.'s office … has a vendetta or bias against Mr. Bullock" and prosecutors "won't let the facts get in the way of it."
I want to make it clear that the D.A.'s office is flat wrong, just factually incorrect about many of these things they allege in these documents.
–Jim Bradshaw, attorney representing Ken Bullock
Bradshaw said there's a "long list" of factually incorrect information in the charges, but specifically he said the figures prosecutors used for charges for plane tickets and other expenses are "wrong" and "don't reflect agreements between the (league and the trusts)" as well as money Bullock has since repaid personally.
"There's been a dispute" over whether Bullock has fully repaid the league, said Bradshaw said, adding that "there's been a good faith effort to try and reimburse."
"There are some discrepancies, but it's not like anybody's trying to get away with something," he said. Rather than malicious intent, Bradshaw said Bullock's actions amounted simply to "less than stellar accounting."
Bradshaw said although auditors have said the trust funds have "characteristics" of public entities, he said prosecutors will "never be able to prove" the trust is public.
Ultimately, Bradshaw said his client will be found innocent.
"I am very confident in the facts and history of these events," he said. "I think when it's all said and done, Ken Bullock will be held not guilty and not responsible for these allegations."
Gill shot back at Bradshaw, calling his accusation that the charges are politically motivated "just a convenient cheap shot."
"If trying to hold people accountable for allegedly stealing taxpayers' money is political, then we live in a culture that could never hold public officials accountable," Gill said.
The charges came two years after the audit, he said, because prosecutors conducted their own investigation and filed a criminal case once they were ready.
On Bradshaw's claim that prosecutors are using factually incorrect information, Gill said: "I don't know how much more clear we could be," noting that prosecutors gave Bullock "credit" for the repayments, but those don't erase what his office found was improper.
"I understand the partial reimbursement, we acknowledge that, but the average citizen doesn't have the right to use their employment's money for personal use," he said. "These are public funds."