Utah League of Cities’ former finance chief charged with skimming $30k for travel, drinks, clothing

Twenty months after the state auditor accused her of embezzling $30,000 for trips, dinners, alcohol and lingerie, the former chief financial officer of the Utah League of Cities and Towns has been formally charged with misuse of public money.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill filed the charge, a second-degree felony, against Michelle Pickering Reilly, 54, of Salt Lake City, who worked 31 years at the league, a group funded by cities to offer training and handle lobbying.

Charging documents listed 562 expenses that she made on league credit cards between 2012 and 2016 for what prosecutors say was personal spending totaling $30,889. One of the charges was for $107 at Misconduct Tavern in Philadelphia.

Charging documents said Reilly hid misuse, in part, by mislabeling expenses.

“For example, Reilly labeled Starbucks purchases as ‘office supplies,’ Tesco purchases, a grocery story in Ireland, as ‘software’ and an airport lounge pass as ‘dues,’” the charging document said.

It added that the $30,000-plus in personal charges on credit cards were for “food, traveling and clothing purchases for herself, [her] son, and romantic partner.”

Examples included $351 for “sleepwear, lingerie, swimsuits” at Soma Intimates; $574 for liquor at the State Liquor Store; $442 for “outdoor gear” at REI; $459 for a dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steak House; hundreds of dollars for iTunes downloads; hundreds of dollars for groceries at Costco; and even $49 for a tour of Blarney Castle in Ireland.

Reilly’s attorney, Greg Skordas, said he had asked the district attorney’s office “for a chance to go over the allegations so we could explain why the expenses were incurred. We thought they were going to give us that opportunity. But for some reason they filed charges before they gave us that chance.”

Skordas said none of the expenses was for Reilly’s personal benefit, and that she had proper authorization and explanations for each expense — including that many were for business travel.

When asked about such purchases as lingerie, Skordas said, “None of that was for Michelle personally,” and more detailed explanations will come during the legal process.

Skordas added it is interesting that 20 months have passed since a state audit accused Reilly of embezzlement. “It’s interesting that this comes just weeks before an election. It’s sad.”

He would not expound on whether he was alleging politics was behind the prosecution.

The Salt Lake Tribune initially made public the allegations of misspending by Reilly two years ago by using documents obtained through an open-records request. At that time, it disclosed $5,000 in questionable spending — just after Reilly resigned her $85,000-a-year job as the league looked into allegations against her.

At that time, she reimbursed $4,996 to the league for such charges.

A few months later, in January 2017, an audit by State Auditor John Dougall alleged that Reilly embezzled nearly an additional $27,000 over several years — and recommended a criminal investigation into her actions.

That same state audit confirmed earlier disclosures by The Tribune that then-league Executive Director Ken Bullock had also charged what eventually totaled $57,000 in personal expenses to the group’s credit card through the years — largely to travel to watch his son play in college basketball games.

Bullock resigned as that state audit was released. That audit did not recommend a criminal investigation into him, as it had with Reilly, saying that Bullock had a long history of repaying his personal charges — and said his was more a case of poor record keeping than an attempt to defraud the taxpayer-funded group.

Since the reports about Bullock and Reilly, the league adopted new ethics guidelines and stricter procedures to oversee its finances.