Feds are investigating whether Utah lied to obtain grants, say the state’s attorney general is stonewalling

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Attorney General Sean Reyes.

The Department of Justice says the Utah attorney general’s office is stonewalling its subpoenas as it repeatedly promises but fails to turn over documents as part of an investigation into whether state officials lied to obtain federal grants.

Attorney General Sean Reyes’ office disputes that but adds it can’t say much because of a secrecy order in the case.

The fight is over whether state officials falsely asserted that budget cuts during the Great Recession eliminated many state jobs and fraudulently sought Obama-era grants from 2009 to 2013 to restore them. The grants were awarded to the attorney general’s office, state courts administration, Utah Juvenile Justice Services and the Utah Department of Public Safety.

A new federal court filing in Salt Lake City by the Justice Department says Utah “has failed to produce a single document in response to the subpoena” from its inspector general — so it asks the court to compel compliance.

“The United States has formally requested that respondent [Utah] fully comply with the subpoena, but it has refused to do so without any stated reason,” it said, adding that it asked Reyes’ office for documents numerous times since April without success.

“Many of the United States’ requests were met with promises to produce documents," it said, “but no documents have ever been produced.”

Reyes’ office issued a statement disputing those claims and noted that the alleged problems occurred before he and his leadership team took office at the end of 2013.

It said his office “has cooperated with the OIG [Office of Inspector General] investigation to the maximum extent allowable under legal and ethical rules and has been following strict orders of this court not to disclose anything publicly.”

The statement said the office does not believe it is violating that secrecy order as it clarifies that “this administration had nothing to do with the alleged conduct,” and that the office represents the involved agencies that “will provide defenses of their conduct at the appropriate time when instructed by the court.”

It also said that despite Justice Department assertions, the attorney general’s office “has fully cooperated with OIG and handled this case with professionalism and excellence on behalf of the state."

The Justice Department said it is investigating allegations that Utah officials falsely represented that the agencies receiving grants had “lost jobs due to budget cuts in order to obtain the grant funding,” later falsely certified they complied with grant requirements, and received “monies they were not entitled to.”

It specifically seeks to find whether Utah replaced state funds that it had already appropriated for such jobs with federal grants. It also seeks documents and communications about job creation and replacement, personnel records for workers funded by grants, and documents about employee transferring practices.

The investigation began in January 2015, court documents said.

“The subpoena is not indefinite or unduly burdensome,” the Justice Department argued. “Because of the importance of the attorney general’s investigation, the United States now requests that this court summarily enforce the subpoena.”