Provo • A preliminary hearing was underway Monday for a former Provo city councilman accused of real-estate fraud.
Steven Turley, 44, is charged in 4th District Court with two counts of exploitation of a vulnerable adult, three counts of communications fraud, and one count of pattern of unlawful activity — all second-degree felonies.
On Monday, prosecutors began to present evidence to support allegations that the former councilman took money and property from several people in order to illegally obtain more property.
The preliminary hearing is expected to last until Wednesday, when Judge James Taylor will decide if there is enough evidence for Turley to stand trial on the charges.
The hearing comes three years after charges were filed against Turley. Court proceedings have been delayed multiple times because four judges recused themselves from the case, and because Turley’s attorneys have filed a number of motions, including a motion to change venue and a motion to disqualify prosecutors from handling the case — alleging the Utah County Attorney’s Office withheld evidence from them.
On Monday, 70-year-old Deanna Thorn testified that she sold her burger restaurant, Brand X, after her husband and son died. In 2008, she said Turley negotiated the re-opening of the Springville restaurant, but when she went to the location, she found people already moving a barbecue restaurant into her old business.
"I signed a lease to open Brand X again there," the woman testified. "They’d already signed their lease. It came as a shock, at least to me."
Turley’s attorney, Brett Tolman, said outside of court Monday that he hopes the evidence presented will persuade the judge to deny a bind over of charges.
"I think these are civil issues," Tolman said. "There are fights over civil disputes."
By mid-day Monday, prosecutors had put only two people on the stand: Thorn and her real estate attorney, Richard Hill. Deputy Utah County Attorney Mariane O’Bryant said outside of court that testimony was going "slowly."
Prosecutors allege that Turley committed a number of other crimes between July 1, 2006 and December 2009, according to court documents.
In one instance in 2006, Turley allegedly had home buyers sign a purchasing agreement that raised the offering price of a home he was building for them to $265,000, but promised them the final price would be $172,000, charging documents state. He then submitted the new purchasing agreement with the higher price to a bank and obtained an extension on the loan based on that price.
Between 2007 and 2008 in Springville, Turley allegedly had a mentally and physically impaired 64- or 65-year-old woman sign over the lease on her residence without providing her any compensation and without making her aware of what she signed, charging documents state.
Also in 2007, Turley allegedly promised to deed a home to a person who had recently moved into a residence in Provo, but he failed to record the deed because he didn’t have clear title to the home. Turley then listed the same home as an asset in a loan application.
In November 2007, Turley allegedly had a 65-year-old person sign a quit-claim deed on a property in exchange for another property Turley would give him in exchange. Turley never completed the property transfer and later took out a loan on the victim’s original home, which has since gone into foreclosure, charging documents state.
In 2009, Turley allegedly showed a copy of a check for more than $2.6 million to a person’s attorney and claimed the funds were available to him to purchase property. However, Turley didn’t have the actual check or access to the funds represented, charging documents state.
Lastly, Turley allegedly negotiated a deal with a construction company to work at a "significant mining project in Slate Canyon," while telling residents and the Provo Municipal Council that the area wouldn’t be used as a gravel pit and that he wasn’t interested in profits. He later admitted he could profit from developing the land and lied about how much material was going to be removed from the site, charging documents state.
Three charges connected to allegations that Turley sold several homes with accessory apartments that were prohibited by local zoning were dismissed in November, after Taylor ruled the statute of limitations had expired.
Turley, who was charged in July 2011, resigned from the city council in September 2011, just before his colleagues were to vote on whether to remove him from office.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.