Audio Captures Faceoff Between Utah Democrats | Buzz Blog

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Audio Captures Faceoff Between Utah Democrats

Posted By on May 13, 2015, 8:06 PM

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click to enlarge Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams and Rep. Justin Miller, D-Salt Lake City
  • Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams and Rep. Justin Miller, D-Salt Lake City

As headlines emerge of political backbiting among Democratic Party luminaries, the roots of the scandal can be traced back to an explosive confrontation on Oct. 13, 2014.

On that day, three men met at a downtown Salt Lake City office suite. Two of the men—Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams and political consultant Donald Dunn—looked upon the third man, Rep. Justin Miller, D-Salt Lake City, as a friend and protégé.

Miller had worked on both men’s campaigns: Dunn's 2002 unsuccessful U.S. congressional bid and McAdams 2012 mayor’s campaign. Miller then became Salt Lake County associate deputy mayor under McAdams. (Miller went on to be elected to House in late 2014, and now represents District 40.)

By the end of the meeting, however, the kind regard both men held for Miller became a casualty not of politics so much as bitter allegations of betrayal and criminal wrongdoing, including the alleged embezzlement of nearly $30,000 from McAdams’ campaign. McAdams recorded the 20-minute conversation, a fact that Justin Miller says he was unaware of. “Kind of feels like a set-up,” he says with a laugh during a phone interview on Tuesday. An audio obtained through a record request to Salt Lake County captures the discord of that meeting. (Listen to the recording here:)

McAdams had been in the process of terminating Miller's employment with Salt Lake County just prior to the October 2014 dispute, according to documents received by City Weekly. Miller wasn’t just getting a pink slip: McAdams went on to report Miller to Salt Lake City Police Department for allegedly embezzling funds from McAdams’ campaign.

Those allegations are currently the focus on a criminal investigation by Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings. McAdams’ claims drew a seemingly vitriolic response from Miller, who went on to make his own allegations against Salt Lake County. In December 2014, Miller filed a notice of claim alleging inappropriate financial relationships between McAdams, former Deputy Mayor Nichole Dunn (spouse of Donald Dunn) and the Exoro Group, a consulting firm run by Maura Carabello, a longtime friend of the Dunns, who managed Donald Dunn's first congressional campaign in 2000.

In February 2015, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill's office investigated those claims and found they had no merit. Writing to Miller's attorney, Gill wrote, "Although our investigation is on-going, to date we have been unable to substantiate the key factual allegations made by Mr. Miller and have discovered myriad lawful bases for the termination of Mr. Miller's at-will employment with Salt Lake County."

Emails City Weekly received through a record request show that McAdams, in summer 2014, had become deeply frustrated with Miller's performance as associate deputy mayor. McAdams had also been taken by surprise when Miller decided to run for Rep. Lynn Hemingway's seat when Hemingway stepped down.

But what was most troubling of all for the mayor, according to emails, was that after McAdams had asked Miller to turn over McAdams’ campaign finance books to a campaign volunteer, Miller had admitted to him that $10,000 in campaign funds was missing.

The emails further revealed that Dina Blaes, the chief administrative officer at Exoro Group and a volunteer on McAdams' team, had taken over the campaign accounting from Miller. In doing so, she said she discovered irregularities in McAdams' campaign finances.

McAdams wanted to know why Miller had reimbursed himself with a $24,000 check. “From my perspective it looks like $24,385 was paid to you that needs to be reimbursed.” When Miller agreed that was the case, McAdams’ anger quickly became apparent. “That's very disappointing to me. You said to me you feel like you deserve better from me. I deserve better than this. I believe this is dishonest.” Donald Dunn expressed equal dismay. “I mean Justin, sloppiness is one thing, stealing is another.”

While both Dunn and McAdams said they wished it was simply a matter of Miller's poor accounting skills, Dunn told Miller that just totaling several checks Miller had made out to himself, which he could not easily explain, came out to over $30,000. “Given the fact that you've just admitted $24,388 and 45 cents that you know you need to repay the campaign, it leads me to believe what else needs to repaid, what other things have maybe intended to pay back,” Dunn asked.

But Miller seemed unable even to provide documentation to the two men relating to what the money had been spent on. After volunteer treasurer Blaes had repeatedly sought campaign finance information from Miller, Dunn said, the files he had sent over were corrupted and the box of receipts had only empty envelopes. Miller had told Blaes the receipts had been recycled, Dunn said at the meeting.

When Dunn pushed Miller on having stolen from the campaign, Miller first disputed the characterization, then declined to discuss it with Dunn. McAdams asked him to discuss it with him. “You said I owe you more, and you said this knowing you'd written yourself $30,000 worth of checks,” McAdams told Miller.

Miller blithely responded, “I'm happy to produce documentation on them, where they exist, and it's easily verifiable.” While he repeatedly dismissed Dunn as somehow unworthy of an answer to his questions, he struggled to answer McAdams charges that he had not only betrayed his trust but that he had placed the mayor in a perilous position.

“What would have happened come January 1 that I'm signing a report you know is fraudulent,” McAdams asked him, meaning that if he had not asked for the books, his campaign filing would have included $30,000 in missing funds, if not more.

“I wouldn't have put you in that spot,” Miller replied.

“You've put me in that spot,” McAdams said.

Dunn urged Miller to come clean about anything else he had done, but all Miller would say was he “would own up to one as a mistake, the others are easy [explain].”

Dunn's disbelief at Miller's actions spilled over into words. “I've been invested in you from the beginning and for you to look at me across this table and say I'm not going to go into this with you … fair enough, fair enough, but I have to say you have done something so unbelievably stupid, incredibly stupid, you put yourself at risk, you've put the mayor at risk, you've put all of us who have been involved in the campaign from the beginning at risk, and to be so selfish is unbelievable.”

Exasperated, McAdams told Miller he wanted either the receipts for the campaign expenditures or he wanted the missing cash, and either way, it all had to add up to zero.

Miller, to the other two men's disbelief, then asked for an apology from McAdams “for all these accusations.”

McAdams refused. “You're not getting an apology. At the very least, Justin, I have good reason to believe you've embezzled $24,000.” Then he added, “You think that I owe you more, bullshit.”

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