Rolly: Big Diehl — indicted developer has all the right friends in all the right places

(Francisco Kjolseth  |  Tribune file photo)   Former Utah Transit Authority board member Terry Diehl, a developer, is the subject of a state investigation into conflict-of-interest issues raised in a legislative audit. (Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Former Utah Transit Authority board member Terry Diehl, a developer, is the subject of a state investigation into conflict-of-interest issues raised in a legislative audit.

Terry Diehl — the indicted controversial millionaire developer who has filed for bankruptcy despite a lavish lifestyle — may have made questionable spending decisions (like losing hundreds of thousands of dollars at gambling tables), but he sure knows how to make friends and influence people when it comes to well-placed dough in the pockets of political campaigns.

The favoritism that Diehl received from elected officials and appointed boards was well documented in Sunday’s Salt Lake Tribune.

But here’s a little more history detailing how Diehl’s wealth and choice of friends moved him into the high-rolling cliques of political officeholders and allowed him to cause mischief.

For example: What do Forrest Cuch, Kevin Jones, Ronald Rood, Derinna Kopp and Doug Clark have in common? They were fired from their state jobs after they expressed concerns about the Utah Transit Authority’s proposed FrontRunner station in Draper.

Cuch, longtime director of the Division of Indian Affairs, was fired in 2011 by Gov. Gary Herbert for alleged insubordination. Cuch insisted his dismissal was over his objection to the proposed station site because it encroached on ancient American Indian ruins.

Herbert denied that.

A few months later, Jones, the state archaeologist; Rood, his deputy; and Kopp, an anthropologist, were laid off, supposedly because of budget cuts. They, too, had balked at the station’s location.

Their terminations outraged archaeologists nationwide, who said Herbert had weakened state oversight of historic treasures.

The ousters of Cuch, Rood, Kopp and Jones inspired Clark to come out publicly, alleging that he was fired two years earlier as managing director for business growth in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development for getting in the way of the same proposed Front­Runner site.

He said it was because former House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, who later became a lobbyist for UTA, favored that site.

A state audit later referenced troubling agreements between UTA and a developer who was paid millions without delivering on his end of the bargain.

That developer had business ties to Diehl and bought development rights from him around a second Draper FrontRunner site, while Diehl was a friend and colleague of Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, on the appointed UTA board. Hughes also favored that site.

Then there was the time Diehl and Hughes tag-teamed to derail a UTA financial adviser they blamed for the defeat of another member of their clique, former Rep. Mark Walker, R-Sandy, who was running for state treasurer in 2008.

Walker was endorsed by most of his House colleagues for the GOP nomination, but his campaign came under a cloud. Carl Empey, whom he had worked with at Zions Bank, publicly asserted that Walker had asked him to approach the other Republican candidate, Deputy Treasurer Richard Ellis, about a scheme in which Ellis would drop out of the race. In return, Walker, when elected, would retain Ellis in his job and give him a raise.

Ellis eventually filed an ethics complaint against Walker with the Utah lieutenant governor’s office. Ellis prevailed in the GOP primary and the general election.

When Empey, a public finance expert for Zions Bank and a longtime bond adviser for UTA, was testifying before the agency’s board, Hughes questioned his legitimacy as an adviser. Diehl jumped in and questioned why Zions Bank was the only bond adviser and wondered whether other bids should be considered.

Empey eventually was forced to leave Zions Bank.

In November 2003, Diehl and his girlfriend left a downtown Salt Lake City bar in separate cars to drive to Diehl’s home at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon.

On the way, a Utah Highway Patrol trooper spotted the girlfriend speeding on Interstate 15 and attempted to pull her over, but she didn’t yield and continued eastbound after taking the interchange onto Interstate 80.

Why didn’t she yield? Because another Diehl friend and a recipient of his generous campaign largess was then-Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard who had given Diehl permission to equip his car with police lights and a siren because Diehl was an honorary member of the search-and-rescue squad.

The trooper thought he was in a high-speed chase and called for backup. But the girlfriend thought the lights and siren came from Diehl, who she thought was just playing around with his toys.

Diehl, who witnessed what was happening, called her on her cellphone and told her she needed to pull over. They were real cops, he said, not him.

When she pulled off, Diehl pulled up behind to explain the misunderstanding. He and his girlfriend were cited with driving under the influence.

The charges against Diehl eventually were dropped after he completed a plea-in-abeyance agreement.

prolly@sltrib.com