Former Utah League of Cities and Towns chief charged with 7 felonies for theft, misuse of funds

(photo courtesy Salt Lake City) Ken Bullock

Two years after a state audit said he used a government-funded credit card to pay for travel to his son’s out-of-state college basketball games, former Utah League of Cities and Towns Executive Director Ken Bullock was charged Tuesday with seven felonies.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill filed three charges of theft, three of misuse of public funds and one of racketeering. They also allege that Bullock used public-money slush funds — which elected league officers said they did not know about — to enrich himself and Michelle Reilly, the league’s former chief financial officer.

Reilly was charged in October with a second-degree felony accusing her of embezzling $30,000 for trips, dinners, alcohol and lingerie.

Bullock, who resigned after the audit two years ago but was later hired by Salt Lake City as a lobbyist for $105,500 a year, was also charged with illegally hiding the slush funds and withdrawing money for himself after he resigned from the league.

His attorney says he is not guilty of the charges and expressed surprise that they were filed.

The charges and earlier state audit came after stories by The Salt Lake Tribune in 2016 revealed Bullock charged tens of thousands of dollars on the league’s credit card to attend the basketball games of his son Elliott, who played for Stanford.

Bullock had said he always repaid those charges eventually and kept all his travel on one credit card to increase his frequent flyer miles. But even that raised questions about whether he was giving himself interest-free loans that he took months to repay, although Bullock insisted he did nothing wrong.

Court filings say Bullock charged $69,551 between 2012 and 2016 on a league card for personal purposes, and repaid $45,857.

They also say expenses were not just for Bullock’s family to travel to his son’s basketball games but included payments for rounds of golf, golf equipment, sports apparel and meals.

Bullock misused two funds that league directors testified they did not know about until audits about his spending revealed them, court documents say.

They add that Bullock issued checks over several years from those slush funds to Reilly for $83,975 in unauthorized compensation.

After Bullock resigned from the league, charges say that he also wrote checks to himself from the slush funds for $4,134.

The league is funded mostly from contributions from cities and towns — with taxpayer money — for activities including lobbying, research and training.

In January 2017, State Auditor John Dougall issued a report saying he found Bullock had charged $57,000 in personal expenses to the league credit card, and questioned another $130,000 in charges because they lacked documentation showing they were for business purposes.

Bullock resigned the day that audit was released. The audit at the time recommended a criminal investigation into Reilly but not Bullock — who had led the league for more than 20 years and was a former watchdog member of Salt Lake City’s 2002 Olympic organizing committee.

The state audit said it believed Bullock did not have “any criminal intent to defraud the league,” but he acted sloppily and improperly. It said the league should seek reimbursement of $11,000 that had yet to paid back by Bullock. New court filings indicate that league officials say outstanding amounts were taken from Bullock’s final paycheck.

Gill said it took two years between the state audit and the filing of charges because the case is complicated.

“We did a lot of research," he said. "We literally had thousands of pages of material that my investigators had to work through,” and had to retrace earlier audit material that they found was incomplete.

Matthew Rojas, spokesman for Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, said Bullock resigned Tuesday as a lobbyist for the city “so that he could deal with these matters, all of which took place before he worked for Salt Lake City.”

Bullock’s lawyer, Jim Bradshaw, said, “Ken Bullock is not guilty of any of the charges that have been filed. It’s very frustrating to me that they went ahead and filed, when we tried to be cooperative and provide information. The state has not been receptive.”

He added, “There are factual assertions in these documents that are incorrect, and it is not difficult to show they are incorrect. There is accounting that is not correct.”

For example, he said, Bullock reimbursed the league for all of his travel within a calendar year of trips. “It’s not like he was a person who went years and years, got caught and then paid it back.”

He said that what charges call improper payments from funds that current league officials say they did not know about came from private entities set up by the league decades ago — and they are private, not public, and fall under different rules for disclosure. “What he did is not illegal,” and Bullock followed advise of attorneys, Bradshaw said.