Story originally posted Tuesday March 18, 4 p.m.
It’s past midnight and all the house lights are dimmed in a faceless South Jordan neighborhood. All the houses, that is, except one. There’s a party going on. Young people noisily come and go at this McMansion set in an otherwise sleepy cul-de-sac. Vehicles fill the home’s driveway and line the narrow streets. At 4 a.m., one neighbor, awakened by the sound of slamming car doors, has had enough and begins to call the police.
But she doesn’t.
She’s been down this path before. This party is taking place March 14, 2008, at the home of Lohra Miller, Salt Lake County district attorney. On Nov. 6, 2007, Miller angrily denounced as “lies” allegations she condoned underage drinking, operated a secret law firm and ran an unlicensed day care, all inside her home. Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff cleared Miller of the allegations. Shurtleff must not have looked very hard.
The parties at Miller’s place died down after neighbors’ complaints attracted attention from the press and authorities late last year, next-door neighbor Jen Zielinski says. But now the neighbor claims it’s back to every weekend.
“When the media stuff was going on, [Miller] said how hard it had been on her family. That bothers me,” says Zielinski. “People think that we’re the bad guys. People think we’re liars. All we did is say what we saw going on that we didn’t believe was right. She got vindicated. And we’re the ones getting woken up in the middle of the night.”
Zielinski has turned to videotaping through her window to get someone to believe her. She’s not the only one.
A private investigator contacted about the Millers also has been filming.
Todd Gabler, principal investigator for Rüdiger Investigations in Springdale, spent months interviewing witnesses, following the district attorney with a video camera, even combing through Miller’s trash. Gabler won’t name his client but says it isn’t the Zielinskis or anyone else from the Millers’ neighborhood.
“In November 2007, Lohra Miller said, ‘None of this is true; just call law enforcement,’ which of course we did. It turns out her statements are false,” Gabler says.
“We first initiated an investigation at the request of a client. We continued the investigation at Ms. Miller’s public request that she had nothing to hide. … This is not a politically motivated investigation; this is an investigation motivated by a sincere desire for truth and public accounting of public officials.”
The results of Gabler’s work are striking. They’re also obvious. The documents he examined would have been available to anyone else—had anyone else bothered to ask. No one did.
Lohra Miller did not respond to repeated requests for an interview left with Miller’s office assistant and the district attorney office spokesman. City Weekly’s messages for her husband Lorenzo Miller, left with the secretary at his law office, on his cell phone and his work email, were not returned.A “Very Thorough Investigation”
When results of the attorney general’s two-month investigation clearing Miller came out in January 2008, Miller trumpeted to The Salt Lake Tribune, “I knew there was nothing to the allegations.” That morning, next-door neighbor Gary Zielinski phoned up the attorney general’s investigator. “How [is it that I can] tell you everything? … Then you come out and say you can’t find anything?” he recalls asking.
In fact, the attorney general’s office didn’t say it couldn’t find anything. In a two-sentence letter that was the Utah attorney general’s entire report, the Attorney general wrote, “Our investigation revealed no basis for criminal charges.”
“We looked only at potential violations of state law,” says Paul Murphy, spokesman for the attorney general’s office. The attorney general’s investigation was limited to three areas: allegations of unlicensed daycare, underage drinking and drug use.
Murphy says the attorney general, “did a very thorough investigation" into allegations of underage drinking and drug use. "We didn’t call any of the neighbors liars,” he says. But no one the attorney general’s office interviewed was able to provide any concrete evidence against the Millers.
Gabler, the PI, interviewed different people. Among his finds is a man who attended a party at the Miller home and who claims underage drinking was indeed occurring there, though it is not clear the Millers were aware of underage drinkers. It is but one of many rocks the attorney general apparently didn’t look under during his investigation. Maybe he figured it was small potatoes.
The sorts of things that Miller stood accused of by neighbors weren’t the usual stuff of big-time state attorney general investigations. It was said she was a bad neighbor, or a bad parent; she was said to flaunt local city zoning laws and thumb her nose at less binding neighborhood restrictive covenants.
The attorney general never looked into allegations Miller operated an unlicensed home law office or allegations Miller violated noise ordinances. Those allegations dealt with local city zoning laws, not state crimes. Even if the attorney general’s office had looked, it could not have found evidence of an illegal law firm in the Miller home. By the time of the attorney general’s investigation, Miller & Miller Law Offices had been gone from the neighborhood nearly two years.
The South Jordan Police Department did look, however. Police department documents show an investigation of the Millers was launched in March 2005, only to be shut down two months later after a police investigator called Lohra Miller to follow up.
“Spoke with Lohra and she said she moved the business to another location,” the officer’s May 2005 report says.
Evidence suggests that was simply not true. The law office would continue operating in the Miller house for another six months, until the Ivory Crossing homeowners association sent a notice to the Millers saying they had to either close the law firm or be sued. A letter from the association attorney dated Oct. 10, 2005, states, “The management committee which has a fiduciary duty to enforce restrictive covenants has received complaints from other residents about your home.” Complaints included:
The letter continues: “Although you have been asked before to comply with the governing documents, you have for reasons unknown been unwilling or unable to comply. … Unless you stop the traffic, the parked cars and the operation of the home business and day care immediately and permanently, I have been instructed to file a lawsuit.”
The Millers were charged $129.65 to cover the cost of having the attorney write and mail the letter.
Meanwhile, during the time it now appears Miller was operating a law firm without a license, Miller, as prosecutor for Taylorsville city, was charging four Hyundai dealers with selling cars without a license during a special summer 2005 event in the Taylorsville High School parking lot. Court documents show each dealer pleaded out the case for $3,000.
Doggy Day Care
Part of Miller’s trouble seems to be that her family was seen as not quite good enough for the suburb they moved into in spring 2004.
Cars enter Miller’s neighborhood through a tall red brick wall that surrounds the entire development. A small concrete sign set in the wall proclaims you have just entered “Ivory Crossing.” Another warns salespeople to keep out. Residents enjoy a clubhouse, a pool and restrictive covenants that govern everything from the look of the lawns to the behavior of residents. People move here because they don’t want to live next to neighbors who leave toys on their lawn. Apparently, pink flamingoes were among the few things for which the Millers didn’t get into trouble with the Ivory Crossing homeowners association:
If the Millers’ behavior mimics that of Sanford & Son, it’s not from a lack of working hard to come up in the world.
Lohra Miller, an Air Force brat and self-made woman grew her career and business from scratch. She graduated in 1988 from Brigham Young University law school. Husband Lorenzo worked briefly as a park ranger before he, too, became a lawyer. Gradually they amassed contracts to become the for-hire prosecuting firm for many cities throughout the Salt Lake Valley, earning a reputation as particularily tough on minors caught drinking. Though she had never handled a felony crime as a city prosecutor, Lohra Miller ran for district attorney in 2006 and won the open seat. It’s been virtually nothing but trouble for her since.
During her campaign, Miller was investigated for accepting more than $30,000 in donations from employees of a single company, Wasatch Property Management. Wasatch employees told City Weekly prior to the election they had been given $2,000 bonus checks, equal to the maximum allowable political contribution and were directed to donate it to Miller’s campaign. Attorney General Shurtleff backed Miller’s campaign. His staff declined to investigate, as did the district attorney, saying since Miller wasn’t yet a public official, campaign finance laws didn’t apply to her.
Miller’s first year as district attorney witnessed a string of long-term assistant district attorneys jumping ship. She fought with Salt Lake County councilmen over allegations she invented an imaginary crime wave to justify increasing her office budget. Most recently, Miller has been in the news for firing Kent Morgan, a 24-year prosecutor who ran against Miller for the 2006 Republican district attorney nomination.
But Miller doesn’t get to leave her troubles at the office.
During last year’s investigation of her neighbors’ complaints, South Jordan Police reported they could find no evidence of underage drinking parties at the home of Miller whose "Ask A Cop" campaign for district attorney earned her the backing of police unions. Since election, Miller has stedfastly refused to prosecute police officers accused of crimes.
Lt. Rob Hansen of the South Jordan Police Department told newspapers that he looked through police files and found only two reports of responses to the Miller house, neither dealing with reports of parties.
But that wasn’t quite accurate. South Jordan Police files did contain a report of underage drinking in the Miller house—a bizarre one.
Booze and Scissors
According to the police report, both Lohra and husband Lorenzo Miller confirmed the child’s story and the drinking. After giving a warning about appropriate punishment of children, the responding officer closed the case.
Lt. Hansen says the reason the report didn’t come up during last year’s investigation was that the police searched their records only for times they responded to neighbor complaints of parties.
So Hansen limited his record search to the two previous years, after the 2005 incident. The attorney general’s office, however, says it had all relevant police reports for its investigation.
In addition to searching police reports, Hansen asked the department’s dispatching agency to look for anyone reporting disturbing parties at the Miller house. Despite neighbors’ claims they had telephoned police several times, no records came back.
Hansen says had there been any out-of-control parties police would have found them since the neighborhood received many extra patrols—16 in 2007—by police looking out for home construction building material thieves.
The police reports of responses to the Miller neighborhood that do exist don’t list a party as the reason for the call, nor that a party was found when police got there. One is a report of graffiti spray painted on the Millers’ curb. The other is a report of young people playing “chicken” with their cars in the cul-de-sac. The cars were gone when police arrived.
However, the man who phoned in the “chicken” report, neighbor Gary Zielinski, says the dangerous road games were a result of a Miller house party spilling onto the street about 11 p.m. Zielinski also says he witnessed the graffiti painting and that it, too, was done by young partygoers.
Brett Fabert, who was tracked down by PI Gabler’s team and who is from the Millers’ old West Jordan neighborhood, recalls traveling to South Jordan for a Halloween party at the Miller house in 2006. The party, held prior to but not discovered in the attorney general’s investigation, wasn’t hosted by the Millers. It was thrown by “a kid,” age 23 or 24, who had been one year ahead of Fabert at high school to whom the Millers rented a basement room. Fabert says there were several underage people drinking at the party.
A Miller child was having a party of his own in the main house the same night. Fabert doesn’t know what happened upstairs. He says one of the Millers’ sons dropped by the basement party occasionally to “hang out.” Lorenzo Miller also popped his head in and out, mostly to tell downstairs partiers to keep the noise down after the neighbors called.
“There wasn’t anything crazy going on,” says Fabert. Sure, there was a DJ downstairs and the windows were open. But he didn’t see why the neighbors complained. “There was a bunch of liquor—the kid downstairs bought a bunch of liquor—but it wasn’t out of control at all. I’ve been to a lot worse parties.”
Steve Trayner, the only other neighbor besides the Zielinskis in the Millers’ three-home cul-de-sac, says nothing happens at the Millers’ home that wouldn’t be expected from any home with teenagers. “Their teenagers are a little wilder than mine,” he says, but it’s “pretty minor stuff.” Nothing that’s ever led him to call the police.
The issues about the home office and day care, he says, “nobody would pay attention to if she wasn’t the DA.” And that’s the point.
A former employee of the Miller home law office says the December 2005 South Jordan police report of teens drinking at the Miller home occurred when a Miller teenager and friends got into booze that was left unguarded in the house.
In a sworn statement, the former Miller & Miller office employee, who didn’t want to be identified for fear of reprisals, said that fellow employees—worried about children in the home—developed a routine: At the start of each workday, they would move the liquor into part of the home sectioned off as an office, which was supposed to be locked at night.
Then the employees policed the home for firearms.
Several children of Miller & Miller employees attended day care at the home. The former office worker says employees began looking for and hiding guns after, she claims, a toddler was seen wandering through carrying a weapon. Weapons were routinely scattered throughout the house, alleges the former employee who was interviewed by the attorney general.
The state Department of Health sent investigators to monitor children going in and out of the Miller house, but never counted more than four. Utah does not regulate day care operations of four or fewer children.
But the former office employee says before the law office moved to Redwood Road, the home office day care had up to 10 children. Then, the Millers’ nanny was paid as an employee of the office and additionally worked as housekeeper, the employee said. A note to the Millers found by the private detective in the Millers’ trash shows a woman writing to “Lohra” that she can’t cook dinner because there is no food in the house.
The former office worker says that employees discussed with Lohra Miller the fact that the law firm was not licensed when it was located inside the Miller home in West Jordan. The employee said the business had not been licensed since 1999. Miller allegedly explained the business was exempt from licensing in West Jordan because it employed her relatives. But, while some relatives were usually on the payroll, most employees were not related, the former employee said.
The former Miller & Miller staffer says the firm employed up to 10 people, most part time and some of whom often worked from home. Still, the law office outgrew the West Jordan home, prompting a move. Lohra and Lorenzo moved to South Jordan in April 2004. The law firm followed in May after Lorenzo Miller remodeled the basement of the new house to include an office. Employees without children were instructed to park cars at the development’s clubhouse, while those with children parked in the driveway. The former employee said the office was not licensed during the 18 months it operated inside the Millers’ South Jordan home.
Neighbor Gary Zielinski recalls getting a tour of the home law office when he was building his own home in the neighborhood, before he fell out with the Millers. Construction workers complained to Zielinski they couldn’t get equipment in because of all the cars. “I asked Lorenzo what was going on. I said, ‘We have a running joke, either it’s a drug house or a convenience store.’ He said, ‘No, it’s our law office.’ I said, ‘You’re kidding me.’”
The law firm finally moved to legitimate office space, on Redwood Road in West Jordan, in November 2005, after a manager for the development showed up on the doorstep of the Miller home, the former office employee says. Still, a business license was not obtained, the former employee said.
Records kept by the Utah Bar Association, the state’s lawyers association, show that Miller & Miller listed its address in June 2003 as 2461 W. Jordan Meadows Lane, West Jordan, then the Millers’ home. Documents registered with the state show that Miller & Miller leased copy, fax and other office equipment using the same address.
In July 2004, Miller & Miller listed its address with the Utah Bar as 3016 W. Riviera Pass Circle, the home in South Jordan.
Neither West Jordan nor South Jordan has ever issued a business license to Miller & Miller, the PI’s investigation found. West Jordan issued a license for Lorenzo Miller’s office in 2007. Both cities require businesses to register and pay licensing fees. And both cities have special rules for when businesses can be operated from inside of a home.
In South Jordan, “home occupancy” businesses are only allowed if all employees inside are family members. To qualify, applicants must first give notice to all residents within 300 feet and get approval from city planners.
Miller & Miller has registered with the state Department of Commerce only twice. The first time was in 1999. It next registered—as Miller Law Office—in January 2007, the month Lohra Miller took office as district attorney and Lorenzo Miller took over the Redwood Road law practice by himself.
Get Your Party On
The home-based law office is gone. So are investigators. Miller, who said she was going to move last year, has taken her home off the market. That leaves the Zielinskis to deal with the noise next door.
When City Weekly dropped by the Miller neighborhood, on March 14, 2008, there were seven cars parked in the Millers’ driveway or along the side of the street near the house. At 12: 30 a.m., cars were still coming and going from the house. That night, Jen Zielinski said slamming car doors and voices woke her at 2 a.m. and again at 4 a.m. Each time, there were new cars on the cul-de-sac. She awoke a third time at 5:30 a.m. to find a truck parked in front of her driveway. She snapped a picture.
The weekend before—March 9, 2008—Zielinski’s videotape shows from seven to 10 cars parked around the cul-de-sac. At 12:30 a.m., Zielinski says she was awakened by a screaming fight. “There were a bunch of kids standing in our driveway, arguing, yelling. Over by our mailbox, there was a kid. He was yelling really loud. They wanted him to get in the car. He wouldn’t get in. Something like that.” At 2 a.m., she was awakened again by a truck with no muffler.
The private investigator found similar scenes when he staked out the Miller home. On Dec. 21, 2007, he videotaped cars arriving at the Miller home and staying until after 4 a.m. On Jan. 12, 2008, at 1 a.m., the investigator found five cars. At 2 a.m. the same night, the investigator videotaped the adult Millers leaving a private club.
“I don’t need the AG’s office to tell me there is nothing going on over there,” Zielinski says. “I know what I saw with my own two eyes.”
Maybe so. But Lohra Miller is the law in Salt Lake County.
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