Atty. General Responds to Iron County Sheriff's Accusations

Atty. General Responds to Iron County Sheriff's Accusations

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CEDAR CITY, Utah (AP) -- Now it's the state attorney general's turn to take offense.

In a hot-tempered rebuttal, the attorney general's office denies it is prosecuting a vindictive case against Iron County sheriff David "Dude" Benson for missing or mismanaged sheriff's funds.

Benson, 37, complained last week that assistant Attorney General Michael D. Wims was piling on the charges against him in a time-honored tactic of intimidation.

"I hate to admit this, and it's a trick of law enforcement -- we call it `stacking the charges,"' Benson told The Spectrum of St. George last week.

The Associated Press picked up the story, which ran in other Utah newspapers.

In a rebuttal sent to news organizations, Wims said that he could have filed even more charges against Benson. Then Wims revealed some evidence in a case kept under tight wraps, blaming Benson for mishandling "dozens of checks" for thousands of dollars over two years.

Benson, first hit June 30 with a charge of obstructing justice, complained he was buried a week later in seven additional charges of misusing public funds, taking cash and guns, tampering with a witness and falsifying public records.

"Mr. Benson claims that because all charges were not filed to begin with, that the additional charges were filed as 'a trick' of 'stacking the charges' to bury the accused," Wims said in the statement on Monday.

"The additional charges have not resulted from vindictiveness but from a cautious and deliberate investigation," he maintained.

Benson and Wims say they agree on one thing: they don't want to try the case in the media. But Wims took Benson to task over that, calling it "disappointing" the sheriff talked to a reporter.

"In the first breath he publicly says he doesn't want his case tried in the media then his very next comment is an attack on the motives of the law enforcement investigators and prosecutors who have filed charges in this matter," Wims said.

Benson, who says he's eager to tell a jury his side of the story, is on paid administrative leave.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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