That is the best word I can think of to describe the callous and brazenly deceitful behavior of Karmen Sanone and Julie Dole over the past four years, as they put their own interests ahead of a man suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Gary Ott, the former Salt Lake County recorder and, by all accounts, a good man, deserved so much better than this. He deserved to be looked after by people who cared for him and he should have been protected from embarrassment.
Thanks to Sanone, a staffer in his office and former fiance, and Dole, his top deputy, Ott’s decline became a tragic public spectacle that they made so much worse by trying to hide his condition under a mountain of self-serving lies.
The full scope of their cruelty came to light late last week in a two-day court hearing — which to the judge’s credit was kept open to the public — where doctors testified that Ott was not only diagnosed with dementia in 2013, a year before he ran for re-election, but his faculties were already badly eroded. Ott, one doctor testified, scored a 7 out of 30 on a particularly cognitive test — a score of 26 would have been cause for concern.
Those close to Ott said they began noticing his decline when he ran unsuccessfully for county mayor in 2012, struggling through speaking engagements, forgetting words and conversations, and even stumbling on his own name when he took the oath of office after winning re-election as county recorder in 2014.
Sanone and Dole, throughout that period, were closer to Ott than perhaps anyone else in his life and Sanone was at least present during Ott’s doctor visits. It is inconceivable that they could not have known about his condition.
The decent thing would have been to help ease Ott into retirement and make sure he got the help he needed.
Instead, they tried to cover it up, lying again and again to county officials, staff and the public about his condition. They claimed Ott’s odd behavior — including several encounters with police where he was acting erratically, once explaining to officers who found him disoriented in the desert that he was “with his people and vegetables” — was due to a bout of shingles.
County council members and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams saw through the transparent sham and called on Ott to resign, but could not force him out of office. Dole posted photos on social media of Ott in front of a blank computer and tried to assure everyone things were fine, even though Sanone now claims that months earlier the enfeebled Ott had appointed her as his guardian.
There is no reasonable or even humane explanation for their cover-up, except that it appears to have lined their own pockets.
Ott was reportedly living on Sanone’s farm in Weber County and collecting $190,000 a year in salary and benefits while his mortgage payments fell into delinquency. Sanone was receiving compensation of more than $70,000.
Dole was collecting a $140,000 compensation package and — after running an embarrassingly, yet predictably, dishonest campaign to replace her old boss as recorder — had the gall to ask the county for more taxpayer money in the form of severance pay.
It wasn’t until Ott’s family stepped in to fight for guardianship that things started to change. Ott is now in a care facility but Sanone is in court arguing she should be entrusted with his care, despite having done such an abysmal job over the past four years.
On Friday, it was revealed she had made herself Ott’s death beneficiary the day after his siblings filed for guardianship.
There’s one more word that could apply: Criminal.
It is against Utah law for someone in a caretaker role — as Sanone purports to have been — to exploit a person with a mental impairment for financial gain. Both Sanone and Dole, by concealing Ott’s actual condition, may also have defrauded taxpayers, who were paying the salaries for all three.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill has been conducting what seems to be a never-ending investigation into the Recorder’s office.
For Ott’s sake, we can hope his family is allowed to care for him in whatever time he has left and we can close the book on a truly shameful saga.