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SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating whether several state criminal justice agencies, including the Utah Attorney General’s Office, made false statements to obtain federal grants.
The investigation came to light in a recent court filing by the DOJ Office of Inspector General asking a federal judge to force the state to turn over records it has refused to provide.
The DOJ served a subpoena on an assistant Utah attorney general on April 2, but the state has yet to comply, according to documents filed last week in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.
“The purpose of the subpoena is to determine whether respondent failed to meet its legal and contractual responsibilities when executing grants with the Department of Justice,” the filing says.
Federal investigators contend the attorney general’s office, Utah Department of Public Safety, Utah Administrative Office of the Courts, Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice and Utah Juvenile Justice Services falsely represented job losses due to budget cuts in order to obtain grant funding from 2009 to 2013, according to court documents.
Investigators also allege the state agencies made false certifications of compliance with federal mandates, resulting in them receiving money to which they were not entitled.
In a statement late Monday, the attorney general's office said the case involves conduct that predates Attorney General Sean Reyes and his current leadership team.
“It involves allegations related to numerous state agencies. As part of its constitutional duties, the Utah AGO is representing those agencies in this matter," the statement indicated. “The Utah AGO has cooperated with the OIG investigation to the maximum extent allowable under legal and ethical rules and has been following strict orders of this court not to disclose anything publicly.”
“In fact, the federal court overseeing this matter issued an order/gave explicit instructions that our office could not discuss in public/with the media the substantive issues in this case.”
The statement affirmed the attorney general's office does not believe the comment issued Monday was a violation of the instruction not to speak publicly.
The federal court overseeing this matter issued an order/gave explicit instructions that our office could not discuss in public/with the media the substantive issues in this case.
The investigation started in January 2015. Specifically at issue is whether the state supplanted or used federal funds to replace money the state had already appropriated for the same purpose, according to a declaration by Cynthia Roberts, a special agent in the DOJ Inspector General's Office.
Roberts' declaration says the records are needed to ascertain whether the state used the funds appropriately.
The grants came through the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, including money for the attorney general’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force. The other state agencies received money from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program, court documents show.
The federal programs administer grants for state and local governments to reduce violent and drug-related crime, support law enforcement, help crime victims and develop initiatives for juveniles.
The subpoena seeks job creation and retention records, personnel records for workers funded by the grants, documents on hiring and employee transfers and communications regarding complaints, objections inquiries regard job creation retention. It required the state to provide the documents by April 29, but the attorney general’s office “failed to produce a single document," the court filing says.
Federal investigators contacted the attorney general’s office “numerous” times by phone and email. The requests were met with promises to produce documents, but no documents have ever been produced, according to the court filing.
The attorney general's office "repeatedly" told investigators that various employees were gathering the documents but for some reason were not able to finish the task.
“Because of the importance of the Inspector General’s investigation, the United States requests this court summarily enforce the subpoena,” the filing says.