Garth Day on Tuesday said he knew he'd made a decision to "forfeit his self-respect and honor" when he used his position as a Morgan council administrator to embezzle nearly $1 million from county coffers two years ago.
Day undertook a persona named Alex Baker, answering cellphone calls in a disguised voice as he carried out elaborate money-laundering schemes to bilk the tiny county from 2008 to 2010. The 42-year-old claimed in U.S. District Court on Tuesday that desperation to keep up with appearances led to his actions.
"I violated the public trust," Day told U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson at his sentencing, which followed his guilty plea to felony counts of money laundering, false loan and credit applications, theft from a program receiving federal funds, wire fraud, mail fraud and bank fraud.
Day said he'd gotten in over his head on expenses associated with a lavish lifestyleincluding maintaining two homes which led him astray from his otherwise solid values. Benson didn't respond favorably to that explanation Tuesday, electing to send the man to prison for 48 months seven months more than the recommended prison time for Day.
Benson also ordered Day to pay $416,222 in restitution to the county and a bank. Day must report to prison to begin serving his sentence on Dec. 6.
Morgan County Attorney Jann Farris cast Day as a con-artist in court. Besides taking county funds, Farris said, Day had misrepresented his education by showing county officials fake diplomas from a non-accredited institution.
Benson peppered Day's attorneys with questions on whether Day knew Rockview University wasn't a legitimate school, or if he'd paid money to a sham school in order to purchase credentials for better employment. The judge also raised skepticism at a large pile of letters he'd received from Day's family, friends, community members and even a state senator begging Benson to give Day a second chance with a lenient sentence.
Benson said he believed Day had duped his associates into believing he is something he isn't.
"From my limited vantage point, I see an individual who has been misrepresenting himself for his adult professional life," Benson said. "I personally wouldn't trust Mr. Day with anything important ... he appears to me to be a typical con-artist."
"I think you're a schemer," Benson added. "And I think you're already trying to scheme your way out of this."
Farris told Benson when Day was under investigation for embezzlement, investigators combed through Day's office and found diplomas from Rockview University in Day's drawer. Farris said he realized the diplomas were sham documents when he saw they listed the exact same GPA for both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in business administration that Day had allegedly received.
"He came in with intent to do harm to our county," Farris said.
Day's transgressions hurt Morgan County's limited resources, with its small sheriff's office dedicating hours to the investigation into Day and Morgan County Bonnie Thomson going over the county's books multiple times when Day created fake checks and other financial documents to cover up the money he'd stolen, Farris said.
Farris said it's still unclear where some of the money Day swindled ended up. He said Day told the county that he gave a construction manager $100,000 as a favor and the manager went on to lose the money in the stock market. It's not known whether that is true, Farris said.
Farris also discovered a check made out to Morgan County for $200 in a pile of Day's pay stubs in his office leading to questions over whether Day managed to steal other small checks that the county is unaware of.
Benson said Day's explanation of needing to keep up on house payments that he'd fallen behind on didn't explain the level of planning required by Day to pull off the crimes. The judge viewed letters to the court sent on Day's behalf as just another tactic for Day to portray a persona other than a thief.
Several of Day's supporters broke into tears after Benson tacked an extra seven months onto Day's sentence.
Before Benson handed the punishment down, Day's attorney, Brad Smith, asked the judge to focus on Day's "integrity" in turning himself in over the fact that he embezzled $1 million from taxpayers.
Smith recounted how Day came to his office and reported his crimes, asking Smith to call Farris so charges could be pursued. He cited Day's history of public service, including a stint in the U.S. Navy, as reasons for Benson to sentence Day to less time in prison than recommended.
Farris, however, told Benson that Day's alleged heroic act was nothing more than a ploy to try to keep himself out of prison when he realized authorities were close to uncovering his misdeeds. Farris credited Thomson, the county treasurer, with refusing to stop digging into Day, even when he brought fraudulent financial documents forward to cover his tracks.
Day was originally charged in state court and was ready to plead guilty to more than 40 counts filed against him, Farris said. But with a crowded prison system and as a white-collar criminal, Day knew that he could potentially get house arrest and not have to serve time behind bars in the state system, Farris said.
That led Day to knocking on Smith's door to report his crimes, Farris said.
"Maybe [Day] or those that counseled him were aware that there was a lack of bed space [in the Utah State Prison] and he'd get home arrest," Farris said. He called it a "blessing in disguise" when federal prosecutors took on Day's case and called it a deliberate, tactical decision to try to have the case moved into a federal venue.
"Federal courts do not go light on white-collar crime," Farris said. "Our state courts don't share that reputation."
Farris smiled and shook hands with other county officials following Tuesday's sentencing.
Seeing Day ordered to serve more time than he expected was "worth the drive" to Salt Lake City from the northern county with a population of about 9,500, Farris said.
About the scam
Serving as council administrator from June 2008 to Aug. 4. 2010, Garth Day converted county funds for his personal use on several occasions beginning in 2008, according to court documents.
Day embezzled funds Morgan County had received from the U.S. Department of Transportation by creating the persona of a fake UDOT employee named Alex Baker. He also wired $92,000 from a Morgan County redevelopment agency to his own bank account to pay off personal debt, court documents state.
Day also illegally opened a $250,000 line of credit at a bank on behalf of the county, then transferred $92,000 from the credit line to pay off his credit card debt at another bank, court documents state. In yet another incident, Day sent a letter to a bank claiming the county had authorized him access to county funds in the amount of $540,840.47, and he forged the county's authorization in the process.