John Daley ReportingThe former Salt Lake County auditor made his first appearance in court today after being caught up in the scandal swirling around usage of county-owned vehicles. His attorney says it’s likely a plea deal is in the works.
Craig Sorensen has been cooperating with investigators since he admitted he stole gas, apologized to taxpayers and resigned his post as County Auditor.
Sorensen, a Republican, has been Auditor for more than two decades. Today he was formally charged with a second-degree felony for misuse of public monies. Sorensen is accused of misusing a Salt Lake County gas credit card, buying over seven thousand gallons of gas--worth more than $10,000.
Investigators say Sorensen was filling up a car other than his own county-owned vehicle--something that was caught on tape by a gas station camera just last month.
Walter Bugden, Attorney for Craig Sorensen: "Mr. Sorensen is fully cooperating with the district attorney's office. He met with the district attorney's office last week and gave a complete statement to the authorities. We're not making any excuses for what Mr. Sorensen did. What he did was clearly wrong and he intends to accept responsibility. We intend to work out a plea agreement and come back to court as soon as possible."
Sorensen was the second county official to resign after news reports revealed top county executives were misusing county-owned SUV’s and gas credit cards. Those reports showed Sorensen was getting just 4.6 miles per gallon driving his county-owned Ford Explorer.
Sorensen faces one to 15 years in prison and a fine of $10,000.
Meantime, Salt Lake County officials are scrambling to re-assure both employees and taxpayers.
In a letter from the Mayor to county workers--obtained by Eyewitness News--Nancy Workman writes: "I want you to know that the public and media focus on county vehicle usage is not a reflection of the work you do and your value to Salt Lake County."
Nancy Workman/ (R) Mayor of Salt Lake County: "When you take people's cars away and take away their allowance and then make some hard calls. That's what we've done. My focus is on this problem. We're going to resolve it."
Late this Friday afternoon--a pair of county councilors called for a new Ethics Committee--a code of ethics, a whistleblower ordinance, and...
Steve Harmsen/ (R) Chairman, Salt Lake County Council: "... an ongoing educational program wherein ethics and personal responsibility are discussed and taught."
The two Republicans vying to become their party's standard bearer say the car scandal shows the need to set high ethical standards.
Nolan Karras/ (R) Candidate for Governor: "I'm never happy when I find we're abusing the public trust, because it destroys people's trust in whatever else we're doing. Public confidence is hard to buy and hard to build, and very difficult to get back."
Jon Huntsman, Jr./ (R) Candidate for Governor: "I think we need to start with the assumption that public servants and public officials need to work very hard to be above reproach. Like it or not, they're going to be in the public spotlight and they have to go overboard to create a strong ethical environment."
Meantime, an investigation by the District Attorney continues, with other county executives still under the microscope.