Utah payday loan company uses constable services owned by man with criminal past

(Courtesy of the Salt Lake County Jail) Steven Maese is listed as a co-owner of Wasatch Constables, a company that high-interest loan companies use to serve court documents, and in some cases arrest people for missing a court date. He's also been charged with aggravated assault.

Wasatch Constables, the company identified in ProPublica’s high-interest loan story as providing bailiff and warrant services, is partly owned by and, until recently, employed as an executive officer, Steven Maese, who 10 years ago made headlines as the high-profile owner of a prostitution ring.

Maese was convicted in 2008 of five felonies in what was known as the Doll House case, named after the escort service that he ran in Salt Lake County. The convictions were upheld in 2010 by the Utah Court of Appeals.

After serving 60 days in jail — what remained after the trial judge suspended a prison term of up to 15 years — he had his record expunged and maintained a relatively clean criminal record. Until this year.

In March, he was charged with misdemeanor counts of assault and domestic violence in the presence of a child. Those charges were later dismissed because of evidentiary issues.

New, but identical charges were brought against Maese in June, only to be wiped out in early October when a South Jordan Justice Court judge acquitted him on both counts.

But a pretrial protective order in that case was still in effect when, on Sept. 24, he allegedly severely beat his girlfriend. The woman confronted and hit Maese after an argument, according to police, after which he pushed her to the ground, got on top of her and repeatedly punched and strangled her with both hands until she passed out.

A subsequent search warrant turned up an unspecified number of rifles, including assault rifles, and handguns at Maese’s residence, in violation of the protective order, police said.

He now stands charged with aggravated assault, five counts of possession of a firearm by a restricted person — all felonies — and one misdemeanor violation of a protective order.

Public records indicate that Maese was one of the owners and the chief operating officer of Wasatch Constables, which boasts of thousands of clients around the state, including many government agencies and courts. The company performs such tasks as bailiff duties, serving court papers and subpoenas, along with notices of garnishment.

ProPublica reported that Wasatch Constables has detained people on warrants issued because they missed a court date in payday loan debt cases, a rare thing in Utah and throughout the country.

Constables and deputy constables employed by the company have police-like powers, including access to state driver license and motor vehicle records. They also have authority to detain and arrest people.

The company contracts with the Ogden City Justice Court and South Ogden and Riverdale cities, among others. A state contract with the Utah Division of Purchasing also allows them to recover delinquent payments and execute property seizures on behalf of the Office of Recovery Services and state Tax Commission.

Chris Hughes, director of state purchasing, said the company already was “on our radar” because of internal issues unrelated to Maese’s past or ongoing court issues. “Steven’s name did come up recently about some other issues," Hughes said, including some possible personnel changes.

Maese’s name is on the state contracts as the Wasatch Constables representative and chief operating officer.

In an interview Thursday, Maese insisted he never had supervisory power over constables and deputies and said that he recently stepped down as chief operating officer.

Moreover, he said he is no longer employed by the company, but he refused to say whether he remains one of the company owners, as he’s listed in state corporation records.

Maese said his departure as an executive is unrelated to the pending criminal case and that his past convictions are irrelevant. “All of my prior criminal convictions were expunged and in this state an expungement is as good legally as the offense never having happened.”

Salt Lake County Constable Matt Jennings, who is another of the owners of Wasatch Constables, said he was aware of Maese’s past convictions, adding, “my understanding is that those were expunged. There’s nothing on his record now.”

He confirmed Maese’s statement that he had “never been in any kind of chain of command” over constables, and described his former duties as COO as “basic HR responsibilities … making sure payroll is done, signing contracts, making sure bills are paid, things like that.”

Jennings refused to say why Maese stepped down as COO, saying it was private information and declined comment on whether Maese remains a company owner.

Jennings said he couldn’t “speak to what clients know” or knew about Maese’s criminal past. Asked if he believed the company had a moral or legal obligation to inform clients and potential clients of Maese’s criminal past, Jennings paused for several seconds. “I’ll think about that and call you back,” he said. He never did.

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