Former Chinese gate chairman cleared in donations investigation
An investigation of more than three months into Terence "Terry" Chen's oversight of finances for a cultural Chinese gate ended earlier this week with no criminal charges filed.
Chen, board chairman for the Chinese Heritage Foundation of Utah (CHF), was being investigated for alleged financial mismanagement for his role in developing a cultural gate in West Valley City. The 48-foot-long gate, built with private donations, was designed to recognize the city's 12-year sister city relationship with Nantou, Taiwan.
Before a September celebration of the gate, some donors told the West Valley City Council that Chen had not provided a budget and ledger for the project's funding. Several people claimed they didn't know where their money went after they gave it to Chen.
Chen denied any wrongdoing, calling his accusers "self-serving people and backstabbers." But the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office began an investigation.
A Jan. 8 letter from the D.A.'s Office said an investigator who scoured 11 bank accounts, interviewed donors and obtained receipts from contractors found "no evidence" that Chen's handling of funds violated any criminal statutes.
Chen's attorney, Greg Skordas, told The Tribune Thursday his client is"very disappointed by this whole thing."
Chen's career is in law enforcement, Skordas noted, as a former West Valley City police sergeant and now as a guard for the U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City. "To the extent that [his reputation] has been tarnished, we hope that it can be re-established."
Woody Fang, CHF chairman prior to Chen, told an investigator there were no accountants on the board and people just wanted to raise money for the project. Fang later donated nearly $100,000.
"Everyone had good intentions, including Terry [Chen], but the bookkeeping part was sloppy," Fang told the investigator.
Some donors never received receipts, so tracking the money was difficult. Funds were also mixed with donations for other projects. But according to the investigator, stricter bookkeeping was expected for the gate donations because plaques bearing donors' names were planned.
California donors held back pledged funds while the investigation was under way, leaving CHF $20,000 short of its goal for the gate. In the end, $162,700 was raised and the gate was completed with about $2,400 left over.
The case report concluded that the "incomplete records and bookkeeping practices" stemmed from 12 years of fundraising during four changes in the foundation's treasurer position, two chairmen and a change in banks. Chen, who had a standard one-year appointment as chairman, no longer holds that position but remains on the board.
The Chinese Heritage Friendship Gate: A Timeline
2000 • West Valley City and Nantou, Taiwan, sign a sister city agreement and discuss building a Chinese gate in West Valley City.
2002-2012 • Members of the local Chinese community organize the Chinese Heritage Foundation of Utah in 2002, led by Terence "Terry" Chen. It raises more than $200,000 from donors in Utah and Taiwan.
June 2003 • The Utah Cultural Celebration Center opens and is named as a possible site for gate. West Valley Sister City Committee is created as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. (The nonprofit later failed to file tax returns for three years in a row, became defunct and moved under the umbrella of the city's Cultural Arts Board.)
2011 • West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder and Mayor Zu Shuhua of Nantou, Taiwan agreed to finish the gate on the 12th anniversary of the sister city relationship.
July 2011 • Ground is broken at the gate site.
July 2012 • The gate, built in Taiwan, is shipped to Utah.
August 2012 • The gate is reconstructed in Utah by YAMAY General Contracting, Inc.
Sept. 2012 • The District Attorney's office begins investigating allegations of mishandled donations.
Sept. 29, 2012 • The Chinese Heritage Gate Celebration is held.
Jan. 8, 2013: •Terry Chen is cleared of any criminal wrong doing by District Attorney's office.
Source: Utah Cultural Celebration Center