Utah County commissioner accused of sexual harassment was previously investigated for spanking female students while he was a high school club adviser

Sexual harassment complaint against first-term commissioner follows several court filings, bankruptcies and alleged inappropriate behavior on a student trip.

Utah County Commissioner has worked as a teacher, student adviser and car salesman before his current job.

A female Utah County employee’s sexual harassment complaint against Commissioner Greg Graves wasn’t the first time he’d been accused of inappropriate workplace behavior, according to court documents and interviews with people familiar with his past work as a teacher, student adviser and car salesman.

Graves was investigated and placed on leave for his conduct with female Alta High School students in a hotel room during a 2012 leadership conference in Park City while he was an adviser for the school’s business and marketing club, say people with direct knowledge of the incident and its aftermath but who didn’t have authority to speak.

He started working for the district in August 2012, and accompanied the school’s DECA marketing group to its fall conference, interviews and documents from the Canyons School District show.

Graves was accused of entering a hotel room during bed checks and playfully spanking at least one female student in the room one night during the conference, several people interviewed by The Salt Lake Tribune said.

Graves was placed on paid administrative leave Oct. 15, three days after the leadership conference. He resigned from the school effective Dec. 13, 2012, less than four months after he started, according to documents from the school district.

Teachers contacted for the story declined to comment. Fidel Montero, who was the Alta High School principal at the time and is now principal at Timpview High School in Provo, referred questions to Canyons School District.

There are no marks against Graves’ state teaching record from his time at Alta. State rules require that if an educator engaged in “professional misconduct that resulted in termination,” the misconduct should be reported to the Utah Professional Practices Advisory Commission, according to Ben Rasmussen, director of law and professional practices at the commission.

Less than two years after leaving Alta, Graves got another job teaching various courses at Hawthorn Academy, a charter school, in West Jordan, state records show.

Graves left Hawthorn shortly before he was sworn in as a new county commissioner, having been selected by Republican Party insiders as the nominee in a race that had no opponent from the Democratic Party.

He now faces calls to resign from dozens of elected officials, including his two colleagues on the County Commission. Hundreds more have signed a petition urging him to quit.

The power of a commissioner

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah County Commission Chair Bill Lee, center, and Commissioner Nathan Ivy hold a commission meeting Tuesday Dec. 12 in Provo. Missing in chair at left was Commission Vice-Chair Greg Graves. Graves participated by teleconference. This was the first Utah County Commission meeting following the release of a sexual harassment complaint and investigation that showed many county employees feel Commissioner Greg Graves is considered a bully with explosive behavior who retaliated against an employee. Several people have called for his resignation.

In his position as an elected official, Graves has become an intimidating presence in the Utah County building, according to an investigator’s report into the harassment claim against him.

Witnesses say he has angry outbursts that interrupt usually pleasant behavior and make them want to avoid him entirely.

Emily Gillingwater, a former county employee who worked alongside Graves as a tax administration clerk, said while none of the unpleasant interactions with Graves was sexual in nature, she chose to look for a job outside the county after Graves berated her.

“Most of the time Commissioner Graves was pleasant to work with,” Gillingwater, who is not the employee who filed the harassment complaint against Graves, wrote in an email. “Then a switch would flip, and he would abruptly raise his voice and go off on a tangent.”

The female employee who made the harassment complaint — whose identity has been protected — said she alerted all upper management at the county shortly after Graves made several sexually charged comments to her.

While riding in a golf cart during an employee golf outing four days before alerting upper management, Graves, the employee’s superior at the time, allegedly rubbed her leg above the knee and said, “Don’t show it if you don’t want it touched.”

Graves told her about his unhappiness in his second marriage, and asked her whether she dated divorced men.

“I told him that most of the men my age are divorced and that the last two guys I dated were divorced,” she said in documents provided with her complaint. “He told me that once you’re married ‘it’s harder to stop once you start making out.’”

“On the drive home, he talked about how he could get sex anywhere,” the woman wrote, “and that there were women attracted to the power he has as a commissioner.”

After alerting upper management to the outing, the woman was given a new supervisor. That’s when Graves started retaliating against her, she said. Later, Commissioner Bill Lee said, Graves had gone through the woman’s emails.

More fear at the county

Just before details of the sexual harassment complaint were made public early this month, Graves said he would be exonerated, he wouldn’t heed early calls to resign, and he would speak again soon.

He has since kept out of the public eye. He called into a commission meeting Tuesday, but hasn’t come to the office in about two weeks, employees working in the commission office said. He hasn’t returned several emails and voicemails from The Tribune after the complaint and investigation were released.

Several people who are familiar with Graves’ past work experience declined to talk publicly. Some said they feared he would retaliate against them in some way. Several people said a majority of their experiences with Graves were positive, though he would have outbursts.

Utah County employees, too, said they were concerned enough about Graves’ behavior that the sheriff’s office took precautions after hearing from employees, Sheriff Jim Tracy said.

“We have assuaged some of those fears by having a deputy located in some of the public meetings and things just to make sure that there wasn’t anything that was inappropriate based on the request from some employees,” said Tracy, who noted he personally hasn’t had negative experiences with Graves. His staffers, on the other hand, have.

“It’s just the failure to control his, I’m trying to think of the right word, failure to control his inclinations. Loud. The kind of boisterous or angry kind of confrontation,” Tracy said. “I have had members of my staff that have had those [experiences]. I’ve talked to him about that.”

Another witness at the county told Spencer Phillips, the attorney the county paid $6,000 to investigate the allegations against Graves, that Graves continued to “use bullying or control tactics ... to get what he wants.” The unnamed male witness said he’d seen Graves act “very inappropriate ... calling people names, putting them into fear.”

The recent harassment claim was made public due to Graves’ current status as an elected official. But court documents, four bankruptcy filings and interviews with people familiar with the man reveal for the first time past issues in the workplace.

An obscured trail

Graves’ past conduct has been difficult to follow in part because court retention schedules allow for some records to be destroyed after a period of time. Some employment details are also kept from being made public by policies that protect the privacy of personnel.

Other former employers won’t check a personnel file or discuss Graves’ work.

“It’s private information,” said Rich Morley, executive director of the American Leadership Academy, a charter school where Graves worked from January 2008 to March 2010. “If you had a subpoena, we could get it to you.”

Stevens-Henager College filed a contract lawsuit against Graves in 2004, and the case lingered for years, with Graves countersuing for more than $10,000. But details about the case are limited, because the files were destroyed and attorneys involved don’t recall what happened.

In 2007, another employer, Murdock Hyundai, took Graves to court seeking more than $2,500 from him.

Paul Tew, a general manager at the dealership, declined to discuss anything about the time Graves worked there. “That’s obviously private matters that we don’t want to be involved [in],” he said.

Court filings show the dealership sued Graves to reclaim an unpaid down payment on a new car and a “DVD system charged without authorization to Murdock Hyundai for Greg’s car.”

A judge ruled in favor of the company, though Graves would later roll the payment into a bankruptcy he filed in June 2008, six months after starting as a Career in Technical Education teacher at the American Leadership Academy in Spanish Fork.

There was a mishap at a Target store, where Graves worked in 2000, and he was charged in 2001 with theft by deception, a class B misdemeanor. He told The Tribune in 2014 the charge stemmed from a misunderstanding with a button to give discounts. The court record is not available, though it was dismissed without prejudice. Files other than the court docket were destroyed in 2008 under court retention schedules.

Graves is also a longtime high school sports official, acting as a referee at football, basketball and baseball games, according to Jeff Cluff, director of baseball and all officiating for the Utah High School Activities Association.

Cluff said he could recall no complaints that were out of the ordinary during at least seven years Graves worked as a referee. Since the allegations against him from the county were made public, however, the association received calls of concern and a board of officials is now conducting a review of Graves, Cluff said.

“Part of the code of ethics of officiating is you live a professional life both in and out of officiating,” Cluff said. “If any official’s behavior is reported or brought forward, that board reviews it and decides whether to take action or not. Whether that means suspension, certain discipline issues that may need to happen, or just blocking them completely from being able to work.”

A candidate with financial issues

Apparent misconduct at past jobs occurred alongside financial concerns for Graves, and those two issues collided at his current job as commissioner, according to the employee’s complaint.

Multiple employees told Phillips, the investigator, Graves recently became irate in the county building at the woman who filed the harassment complaint when a bank problem delayed his paycheck.

“Tell that dumba-- [claimant] that she better get this fixed and I’m gonna get paid!” a witness told Phillips that Graves said.

Graves’ finances first received public scrutiny shortly after he wooed Republican insiders into picking him as the party’s candidate instead of incumbent Commissioner Gary Anderson in 2014.

The nominating convention was crucial for the candidates that year. Democrats didn’t field a candidate, so the GOP nominee coasted to victory and a four-year term as commissioner.

Graves put this campaign message at the top of his website: “Why I’m running for County Commissioner: We have a debt problem!”

After picking him as their preferred candidate at a nominating convention, delegates discovered Graves’ own recurring debt problems in the past. But talk of replacing him came to nothing and a write-in candidate campaign fizzled.

He’s filed for bankruptcy — either jointly with his ex-wife or alone — four times, court records show. Two of those filings were unavailable because they were entered in the early 2000s.

If the female employee’s recollection from her complaint is accurate, there could be more bankruptcies in the future.

The female employee said in her supporting testimony that in addition to various sexually explicit remarks he allegedly made, Graves indicated another bankruptcy could be forthcoming.

“He said that he didn’t know how long he was going to stay married. I told him he should make it work with his wife,” the employee said. “He said if he divorced, then he would file bankruptcy again.”

Reporters Bill Dentzer, Jessica Miller and Ben Wood contributed to this story.