No bail for Exitus CEO Candace Lierd, charged with fraud and theft

A judge ruled there was “substantial evidence” to hold the co-founder of the Lehi-based nonprofit without bail.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The city of Lehi, where anti-human trafficking organization Exitus is based. A co-founder and director of the nonprofit will be held without bail on more than 30 felony charges, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Provo • The CEO and co-founder of the nonprofit Exitus will remain in jail after being charged with more than 30 felony counts — including fraud and theft — in connection with the group, a Provo district judge has ruled.

Candace Lierd, also known as Candace Rivera, will be held without bail in a Utah County jail, 4th District Judge Christine Johnson ruled Tuesday.

Johnson said she thought there was “substantial evidence” to support the charges filed against Lierd, and to suggest that Lierd could commit more crimes if released.

“What I see is a pattern of criminal activity,” Johnson told the courtroom. “There is a likelihood that [Lierd] would continue to pile up financial crimes on release.”

Lierd was arrested Sept. 15 on more than 30 felony charges, including communications fraud, embezzlement, forgery and identify theft.

Prosecutors allege Lierd habitually misrepresented herself, lied and forged documents for financial gain in connection with Exitus, a nonprofit that has advocated against human trafficking. She allegedly claimed to be a nurse, a physician and a physician’s assistant, prosecutors say, though she was never professionally licensed or registered in Utah.

According to a probable cause affidavit written by an investigator for the Utah Attorney General’s office, Lierd in February 2022 also “leveraged” her background as a human-trafficking expert — someone who had been featured on the BBC and who founded three companies — to secure a spot on a grief panel for widows hosted at Disneyland. Lierd also was able to enter into a business contract with panel host Charlene Paul totaling $8,702.55 to market a book Paul wrote about the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the affidavit adds.

“There is no one she hasn’t, or won’t, take advantage of,” said prosecuting attorney Craig Peterson.

Prosecutors argued Lierd might pose a flight risk if she were released, and alleged she has demonstrated a pattern of committing financial crimes without regard for the victims or the consequences.

“She does not care, as long as she can facilitate something to her end,” Peterson said.

According to court documents, Lierd is also accused of writing two bad checks in 2022 to Utah Live Bands for two Exitus galas. Tuesday’s hearing included discussion of that case, though no judgment was issued.

Peterson alleged Lierd committed more communication fraud in order to open a credit line to “pay towards restitution in the check fraud case. ... And so, she’s committing a criminal act to facilitate the past criminal activities.”

Charges have not been filed for that specific allegation, he said, but an investigator is “prepared to testify” and Peterson said he will likely file new charges.

Attorneys for Lierd argued such allegations should not be considered until formal charges are filed, but Johnson said the new allegations were fairly brought before the court and took them into consideration in her ruling to deny bail.

Charlene Paul, who met Lierd on a grief panel for widows in 2022, said she was “excited” about the judge’s ruling Tuesday.

Paul — one of about a dozen alleged victims in the courtroom Tuesday — told The Tribune Lierd wrote the forward of her book, which will be removed in any future printings.

After the ruling was delivered, many of Lierd’s alleged victims hugged and cried.

“This is a good day,” Paul said. “This gives you hope in the legal system.”