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Utah Lt. Gov. Bell says he was just seeking truth about DCFS case

Published February 24, 2013 1:15 am

Abuse allegations • Audit ordered by the lieutenant governor triggered a criminal probe.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Lt. Gov. Greg Bell said Friday that he was merely trying to get to the bottom of "conflicting claims" in a child-abuse case with a performance audit he ordered in 2011.

The audit has sparked a criminal investigation into possible abuse of power and public money.

In a statement issued early Friday evening, Bell said that in 2011, a family contacted him with serious accusations against the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS). Bell referred the case to Palmer DePaulis, who oversees DCFS and told Bell the case was being handled correctly.

"However, as additional information emerged," Bell said in his statement, "I could not reconcile the widely divergent accounts from DCFS and the family. If the family's account was true, I would have been irresponsible not to investigate further."

Bell appointed two state-employed auditors to review DCFS policies. Bell said in the statement that his goal was not to "tilt the outcome" of the case and that such reviews have been done "often."

"The audit focused not on the truth or falsity of the underlying claims against the family," Bell said, "but on what policies and procedures DCFS had in place to protect families, whether DCFS had adhered to its policies and procedures, and whether existing policies and procedures were adequate to protect Utah families."

The outcome of the case was not influenced by the audit — according to Bell's statement and to emails written by DePaulis, who heads the Department of Human Services — but it nevertheless prompted a criminal investigation by the Davis County Attorney's Office, which said the FBI is providing assistance. Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said Thursday in a letter that the investigation was prompted by allegations that the audit may have been an abuse of government power and money, may have been beyond the "scope of legitimate authority" and may have been intended to influence the child abuse case.

Documents obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune through a public records request appear to show that the audit cost DCFS $6,764 in staff hours. However, the document has been so heavily redacted it's uncertain whether that is the total cost. That figure also appears to be limited to DCFS personnel and presumably doesn't include the auditors' salaries or other expenses that could have been paid with tax dollars.

Rawlings letter also mentions an allegation of a "personal relationship between an interested party and the Lieutenant Governor himself." Bell lives in Davis County.

Friday evening, state Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, criticized any comparison of Bell to Attorney General John Swallow — who also is under investigation by the FBI — because "what Greg is accused of doing is trying to help a friend and neighbor."

Weiler was referring to a City Weekly story that reported that the "interested party" with whom Bell had a "personal relationship" was actually a friend from an LDS ward.

But David Pulsipher, who was one of the two auditors tapped by Bell, said Friday that for most of his time on the project, he had no impression that there might be any sort of relationship between Bell and anyone involved in the case.

"The first hint of a possible relationship that I got was a comment made by a DCFS worker," Pulsipher said, adding that the comment was made toward the end of the audit.

Pulsipher said he and auditor Broc Christensen, who also worked on the case, were not pressured to arrive at any particular conclusion and that there didn't seem to be anything improper about Bell's request. In the past, Pulsipher said he has also worked on other audits requested by the Governor's Office, including two in the last year.

At the time of the audit, Pulsipher was the audit director for the Department of Corrections. Christensen was an audit manager at the Department of Health.

State Auditor John Dougall, who was speaking generally and not about the Bell case, said audits mostly fall into two categories. External audits are conducted by his office, which is independently operated. Internal audits are conducted by auditors working within an organization and reporting to that organization's management.

The audit ordered by Bell would have been an internal audit because Pulsipher and Christensen worked for state agencies while reviewing another state agency. Both men ultimately report to the Governor's Office.

Dougall said organizations choose internal or external audits for a variety of reasons, such as privacy, but that, in theory, pulling auditors from one state agency to review another " wouldn't be questionable."

Dougall took office in January and was not involved in Bell's audit.

In addition to the criminal investigation, the audit also has apparently thrown DePaulis' career into question. In a letter dated Dec. 17, DePaulis wrote to Gov. Gary Herbert that he felt pressured to retire at the end of the year, though he was later given a choice about his departure time.

He also wrote that he believed Bell questioned his integrity because of the audit, as well as the integrity of some of his staff.

A DCFS spokeswoman said Thursday that DePaulis had not made any decisions about retirement, though earlier that same day Herbert said at a news conference that "DePaulis is retiring of his own volition."