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Utah agency hit by insider scam recoups $820K, mostly from state risk fund

First Published      Last Updated Oct 21 2016 05:02 pm

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The emergency communications agency that was rocked by a massive long-running embezzlement discovered earlier this year has recovered $820,000 — which covers most of the stolen funds, says its top official.

"We have recovered $820,000 of our loss, which is almost 100 percent … as of last week," Tina Mathieu, who leads the Utah Communications Authority (UCA), told lawmakers this week.

Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, was impressed by the rebound.

"Congratulations," said Van Tassell, a banker. "If you collected over $800,000, I'd like to hire you to collect my bad debt on my loans. That's a great percentage under very difficult circumstances. … That is not usually what happens in these kinds of cases, so congratulations."

Mathieu, in a Salt Lake Tribune interview Thursday, said the bulk of the recovered money — some $600,000 — is coming by way of an insurance settlement.

But, like all government agencies in the state, UCA is covered by the state's risk fund, an insurance pool made up of public monies.

"The insurance companies will now turn around and try to recoup their loss from the suspects," she said, adding UCA has recovered $220,000 from the suspected embezzlers.

Those suspects have been identified in court documents as former UCA administrative assistant Patricia Nelson and daughter Crystal Evans.

The two admitted in a civil lawsuit filed by the agency that they made hundreds of thousands of dollars of personal purchases on agency credit cards, then covered their tracks by manufacturing phony statements.

The decadelong scheme was uncovered in January, when a co-worker found a falsified statement left on a copy machine.

The pair agreed to pay a $2.3 million civil judgment, including interest and punitive damages, although it's unclear there is a realistic chance of the state collecting.

Mathieu hopes for criminal charges in the embezzlement.

"We are absolutely expecting there to be charges pressed — 100 percent, yes," she said. "We do have signed confessions from them."

West Valley City police have been working with FBI forensic experts, she said, adding she hasn't received any recent updates on the investigation.

A request for comment from West Valley City police was not immediately returned.

UCA was the target of harsh criticism after the embezzlement became public in April and longtime Executive Director Steven Proctor resigned, including in state audits which faulted its lax financial controls and the board's lack of adherence to open-meetings and transparency laws.

Mathieu, however, has been reappointed board chairwoman by Gov. Gary Herbert, and the Senate on Wednesday unanimously confirmed the move.

Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, told his colleagues that his confirmation committee was satisfied that UCA is "now going in the right direction," and Mathieu "is the person to continue that change."

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