Rolly: Utah officials often tripped by trust in fellow Mormons
Published: February 25, 2013 11:51AM
Updated: February 25, 2013 08:32AM
image
Paul Rolly, Tribune columnist

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams was a state senator last year when he successfully sponsored a bill, a feat for a Democrat, that enhanced penalties for so-called affinity fraud, where scammers prey on victims whose trust is based on a shared community or faith.

The bill addressed a problem specific to Utah: the high number of cons perpetrated on Mormons, by Mormons.

There is another affinity-based conundrum common in Utah: government officials who use their positions of power to influence an investigation, a contract issue or a policy direction because of personal relationships steeped in their Mormon religion.

The latest example concerns the accusations surrounding Lt. Gov. Greg Bell.

Bell is being investigated by the Davis County Attorney and the FBI for allegedly using his position and public funds to influence a child welfare case in which children were removed from their home by Division of Child and Family Services workers who feared for the youngsters’ safety.

Bell allegedly tried to intimidate the child welfare workers and their bosses by ordering state audits of their operations.

His interest in the case, according to City Weekly’s Stephen Dark who broke the story, was spawned by his relationship to the children’s grandfather, with whom the lieutenant governor shared LDS Church callings.

There are numerous examples of Utah elected officials sticking their noses into policymaking because of acquaintances, often made in church, with interested parties.

Their intentions are not necessarily nefarious, but in part motivated by their devotion to fellow church members.

Utah First Lady Jeanette Herbert found herself in that embarrassing situation recently when she wrote a letter seeking leniency for a convicted child pornographer, based on knowing his family.

Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, got caught in the same web when he wrote a letter asking leniency for a man, who had been his intern, convicted of sexual abuse of a minor.

The belief in the goodness of those who appear to share the same values engulfed several legislators years ago in an effort to lessen the punishment for child sex offenders incarcerated at the Utah State Prison.

Sen. Haven Barlow, R-Bountiful, who sincerely believed he was doing the right thing, led the charge to do away with severe sentencing guidelines for convicted child sex offenders. He had been a volunteer Mormon chaplain at the prison and worked to give spiritual guidance to the prisoners, some of whom convinced him they were innocent.

Several Utah County legislators a few years ago heard from their ward members that the University of Utah School of Medicine was discriminating against male Mormons in its admissions practices led to a legislative audit of the school.

And those same Utah County lawmakers summoned then University of Utah President Arthur Smith, the first non-Mormon head of the school, to a meeting in Orem in which they lambasted Smith for not hiring enough Mormon professors and for alleged anti-Mormon rhetoric uttered by some professors in the classroom.

Anticipating the kind of meeting he was headed into, Smith brought with him the student body president that year, who happened to be the grandson of Mormon prophet Gordon B. Hinckley.

prolly@sltrib.com