A key provision has been violated in the agreement signed last year by federal prosecutors and transit officials to exempt the Utah Transit Authority from prosecution in an ongoing criminal investigation.
One of the terms of the deal was that a federal monitor be identified by May 4, 2017 — 30 days after the nonprosecution agreement was signed — and that that overseer be on the job by July 3. The monitor was intended to be an independent watchdog to review UTA’s adherence to promised reforms and to recommend additional changes.
That hasn’t happened.
UTA officials acknowledged the blown deadline in response to questions from The Salt Lake Tribune — but both the agency and federal prosecutors say the deal is intact.
According to terms of the agreement, failing to appoint a monitor within the deadline is grounds to void the deal and could mean dissolving the transit agency’s exemption from an ongoing criminal investigation of possible misuse of federal dollars, ethics violations, improper bonuses and self-dealing involving land transfers. That probe is now focused on former board members and others.
But Greg Bell, UTA chairman, said holdups in appointing the monitor have not yet jeopardized the agreement, which he characterized as still being on track.
U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber’s office concurred.
“The parties intend to move forward with the monitoring agreement. Neither party is in breach of the nonprosecution agreement,” said spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch.
UTA first acknowledged the lack of a monitor in reply to Tribune questions this week.
“The federal monitor has not been appointed yet. UTA has forwarded its recommendations to the Department of Justice for its consideration and ratification. UTA is waiting for the DOJ’s response/approval,” agency spokesman Carl Arky said in a statement.
Asked when the agency had submitted its preferred candidate to Justice, UTA declined comment.
“Because the procurement remains open and no final decision has been made, it would be inappropriate to comment on this matter,” Arky said in a second statement.
Bell, contacted Wednesday, expanded somewhat.
“[On] the federal monitor, the U.S. attorney gave us a list and we picked from that list someone we [considered qualified],” Bell said. “Apparently, the U.S. attorney is in the midst of negotiating that contract: when, how much … just the routine of accepting a proposal and going through government procurement and working out the details.”
Bell said he did not know the timing of when UTA had forwarded its recommendation, but suggested that’s where the holdup had been.
“They’re the ones who had to come up with a panel of names. We selected, told them we like ‘c’ and they’re negotiating with ‘c’ to finalize the contract.“
Bell also commented on recent warnings by Sherrie Hall Everett, vice chairwoman of the UTA board, that legislation shifting legal representation from UTA’s general counsel to the Utah attorney general could jeopardize the deal with federal prosecutors.
“Now, can we abide by the nonprosecution agreement? We think we can,” Bell said.
Does the U.S. Attorney’s Office agree? “They’re not saying. I don’t know,” said Bell.
Rydalch did not respond to a question about the change in UTA legal representation.
Lawmakers gave UTA more than a year, until June 2019, to make the transition.
In signing the nonprosecution agreement in April 2017, UTA promised to cooperate with the ongoing criminal investigation, waiving its attorney-client privilege.
So far the only charges that have come out of this ongoing investigation were aimed at developer and former UTA board member Terry Diehl. Focused on Diehl’s profits from a land deal near a FrontRunner stop in Draper and the developer’s later bankruptcy, the case eventually fell apart. The last remaining charge against Diehl was dismissed in November.