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Utah Legislative candidate is wife of accused swindler

Published April 12, 2012 7:30 am

Legislature • Jewel Skousen pledges to battle government corruption she says led to charges against Rick Koerber.
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The wife of a Utah man under federal indictment for allegedly masterminding what might prove to be one of the largest Ponzi schemes in state history is running for a seat in the Utah Legislature.

Jewel Skousen, the spouse of accused fraudster Rick Koerber, says one of the reasons she's running for the Republican nomination in House District 52 is to fight corruption in the Utah Department of Commerce led by Francine Giani, who the couple blame for Koerber's federal indictment on fraud and other charges.

Koerber was first charged in May 2009 and has been the object of two superseding indictments since then related to his operation of real estate investment companies FranklinSquires Cos. and Founders Capital LLC in Utah County starting in 2004. Koerber allegedly used about half of the $100 million taken in from investors to make payments to other investors in what's known as a Ponzi scheme, according to the indictments.

He has pleaded not guilty, but no trial date has been set.

Skousen said Koerber does not have an official role in her campaign, but helps when asked.

Jewel Skousen's given name was Jewel K. Kimber. But after a 2006 divorce, she started using the last name of her grandfather, the late Cleon Skousen, an LDS icon of far-right politics. Koerber also espouses "free capitalist" politics "dedicated to advancing capitalism as the moral revolution to sanction, restore and complete the political achievement of the American revolution."

Her candidacy has another twist to it because of an interview Koerber's former wife, Michelle Edwards, gave to a website in which Edwards said she and her then-husband explored a possible polygamist-type relationship.

Edwards said in a June 2011 podcast posted on a website called Daughters of Mormonism that her then-husband had been interested in polygamy since joining the LDS Church in about 1990. The church in the 19th Century sanctioned polygamous marriages as holy. Edwards said she agreed to explore such an arrangement because of her belief in church doctrines.

Daughters of Mormonism posts podcasts that feature current and lapsed members of the faith who tell their stories anonymously. Edwards does not use her last name in the podcast and refers to the other two people in her story by the first names John and Laura. But Edwards confirmed to The Salt Lake Tribune this week that she was interviewed for the recording.

Skousen was an employee of Koerber's before they got married following his 2009 divorce from Edwards.

In the podcast, Edwards said that after going to work for her husband, the woman identified as Laura eagerly agreed to take part in a trial period in which she and John would "date" as the trio moved toward some type of polygamist relationship. But the three also did not want to jeopardize their membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which outlawed polygamy more than a century ago, Edwards said.

Edwards said she grew jealous of the affections between John and Laura, who eventually came to live at their home as a "nanny" for their children. Edwards said she asked for and was granted a divorce.

Edwards and Koerber were divorced in November 2009, according to court records. Koerber and Skousen announced their marriage shortly afterward.

Edwards declined to reveal the real identities of the other people she talks about in the podcast because she wanted the story to be about her crisis of faith. But Edwards said it accurately represented events in her marriage.

"That is my story and I'm sticking to it," she said.

Koerber, in a phone interview Tuesday, at first said he was not sure it was the voice of his former wife of 10 years on the podcast, but he later said her story was not a truthful depiction of his marriage with Edwards.

"That is a straight fabrication," Koerber said. "That is a story about something completely foreign to my family and to my life."

Skousen denied any interest in polygamy and said in an email Wednesday that, "I am not even addressed in the podcast."

"My understanding is that it was told in a fictitious context," Skousen wrote. "The small portion I have listened to is clearly not an accurate portrayal of my family or my relationship with my husband."

On her campaign web page, Skousen touts a family life with eight kids. She also repeats allegations from court documents that state government regulators who were angry at Koerber over radio broadcasts and billboards critical of their investigation of his business operations were behind the federal charges, which she characterizes as baseless.

"After seven years of investigating my husband's businesses, NO evidence was found that he ever broke the law," she claims on a website posting.

Skousen rails against Giani, executive director of the Department of Commerce, who asked federal authorities to investigate Koerber after Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's office declined to file a civil action against him after a lengthy state investigation.

Skousen calls Giani "one of the most corrupt and divisively anti-business bureaucrats in Utah government," and adds, "I will confront her and any other corrupt bureaucrats."

A Department of Commerce spokeswoman declined comment, as did the U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah, which is prosecuting Koerber after an FBI investigation.

tharvey@sltrib.com

Twitter: @TomHarveySltrib