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Ex-Utah utility executive was hired while on the run from Canada

Under investigation in Canada, he was hired as financial officer, then allegedly stole $50K.



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"This guy fled once, so, you know, we’re concerned he’s going to flee again," Taylor said. "I don’t know where he could go. He could go down to Mexico, I guess. He can’t go back to Canada."

Canadian officials have not said whether they will seek to extradite Furness back to Canada to face prosecution.

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The anger felt by Heber-area citizens extends to Heber Light & Power’s managers, who were responsible for supervising Furness, even as he carried out the alleged fraud for more than three years.

Furness submitted monthly expense reports to General Manager Blaine Stewart, who approved and signed them. According to the Utah Attorney General’s probable cause statement, Stewart simply read the front-page page summary of the reports and did not review the specific credit card statements or receipts.

It was Stewart’s responsibility "to protect the company funds and ensure financial control," Franco said. "It’s right there in his job description. And please remember, the general manager signed off on Mr. Furness’ receipts of the alleged embezzlement. He claims that it wasn’t his job, but he signed off on the receipts."

Stewart, whose salary is paid by the taxpayers of Heber City, Midway and Charleston, currently earns $267,181.31 in salary and benefits, according to the power company’s website. General Counsel Joseph Dunbeck, who is also responsible for overseeing the financial health of the company, earns $216,963.20 in salary and benefits.

"We were paying a half a million a year for two people to keep an eye on the company, and this happened anyway," Taylor said. "So to say they had no idea, they should have. It’s one of those things of, if they didn’t know, that’s as big of a problem."

In March, about two weeks after Furness was charged, Heber Light & Power issued a statement addressing the case that said the company "has reviewed and continues to review its internal financial controls and to take appropriate steps, where necessary, to strengthen those controls."

Both Stewart and Dunbeck declined to comment for this story, saying they did not want to jeopardize the ongoing prosecution of Furness.

Attempts by The Tribune to reach Furness for comment were unsuccessful. His attorney of record, Russell Pietryga, did not return several calls for comment.


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Furness’ next court appearance is scheduled for July 23.

Councilwoman Franco said Furness may have succeeded in carrying out the alleged fraud for so long because of his popularity among city officials and company executives.

"The previous mayors and council members knew him and liked him. They really liked him," Franco said.

Former Midway Mayor Patton said she was surprised when she learned that Furness had allegedly defrauded not one, but two, utility companies.

"He was very personable," Patton said. "But obviously there were some flaws in his personality, too."

hstevens@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Harry_Stevens



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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