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Apologetic Sorensen sentenced

Published October 19, 2004 2:05 am

The longtime Salt Lake County auditor gets 10 days in jail, fine, probation for gas scandal
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Despite an "avalanche" of requests for leniency, longtime Salt Lake County Auditor Craig Sorensen will spend 10 days behind bars for stealing fuel with his county gas card, a 3rd District judge ruled Monday.

Sorensen, 58, who served 26 years as auditor before resigning earlier this year amid a vehicle-abuse scandal, profusely apologized for his conduct. He asked for mercy from Judge Deno Himonas, who said that the number of support letters for Sorensen set a record.

Even so, Himonas said, Sorensen was an elected official who broke the public trust.

"I am holding you to somewhat of a higher standard," Himonas said, sentencing Sorensen to serve 10 days in the county jail, 12 months of probation, 200 hours of community service and pay a $5,000 fine, plus a state-imposed 85 percent surcharge, or $4,275.

Sorensen previously paid restitution to the county of about $8,600.

Himonas also sentenced Sorensen to up to five years in prison, but suspended that decision pending successful completion of probation. He also ordered that during the probation period, Sorensen not hold any public office with fiduciary responsibility.

Sorensen, who pleaded guilty in August to a third-degree felony of attempted misuse of public funds, said the judge considered everything and "did what he thought was best."

"What I did was terribly wrong," Sorensen said outside of court, holding his wife's hand and surrounded by family. "I apologize. I wish I hadn't done it."

His attorney, Wally Bugden, said it was a "very fair" sentence.

"It's true you have to hold public servants to a different level," Bugden said. "He will go to jail and, yes, we're disappointed that he's going to jail. But he made a mistake."

Prior to his sentencing, the former auditor told the judge that he was "very, very sorry," and apologized for the "damage" done to the public's trust in its elected leaders. "All those people that voted for me, I've let them down," he said, adding, "I am asking for mercy; I'm asking for justice."

Bugden told the judge that Sorensen was embarrassed by his actions, but has been punished by his loss of reputation. The defense attorney added that Sorensen had called many friends personally to apologize. "That requires a hell of a lot of bravery," Bugden said.

Bugden added later, "I don't think a day will go by that Mr. Sorensen won't remember what a stupid and dumb mistake he made."

Sorensen will begin serving his jail time on Oct. 25.

As part of his plea deal, prosecutor Anne Cameron agreed to ask for no jail sentence, but probation officials recommended the former auditor serve time. Cameron said that Sorensen "is sincere. He truly is sorry."

Many relatives and friends pleaded with the judge to not sentence Sorensen to any time behind bars. That included Democratic District Attorney David Yocom, who wrote the judge to personally recommend that Sorensen, a Republican, receive no jail sentence.

"The proposed sentence in the plea agreement may, to some, appear to be too lenient for a public official who has abused the public's trust," Yocom wrote, "but I believe it to be a fair one for Craig and for the public, considering his long record of public service and his willingness to step forward and admit his guilt."

Sorensen, who in previous campaigns touted himself as the "taxpayer watchdog," publicly acknowledged he stole fuel by using a county gas card and promptly resigned May 24 after news reports questioned his purchases. Three day later, Yocom charged him with a second-degree felony of misuse of public funds.

The charges alleged that Sorensen used his government gas card to fuel personal vehicles over a three-year period, stealing more than $10,000 in gasoline.

tburr@sltrib.com