Sean Reyes’ office is under audit by lawmakers. Will it continue after A.G. says he won’t run again?

Despite Reyes’ announcement that he won’t seek reelection, bigger questions about the culture and management of the office need to be answered, legislators say.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023. Despite Sean Reyes’ announcement that he won’t seek reelection, bigger issues about the culture and management of the office need to be answered, Utah lawmakers say.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has abandoned plans to run for reelection next year, but lawmakers want an audit of the management of his office and ties to Tim Ballard to continue.

“It is vital that this audit proceed without delay,” said Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, “so that the Legislature … can make any needed course corrections for the appropriate oversight of that office and ensure its efficient and effective operation in the best interest of the people and of our great state.”

Ivory spearheaded a letter signed by 26 bipartisan legislators last month requesting the sweeping audit of the decision-making process, travel policies and culture of the office, as well as the extent of Reyes’ relationship with Ballard and Operation Underground Railroad.

The request came after The Salt Lake Tribune reported on some 30 trips Reyes had taken using campaign donations and a series of civil lawsuits accusing Ballard of sexual misconduct and assault. Ballard has repeatedly denied the allegations.

On Friday, Reyes released a video announcing that he would not seek reelection next year — a reversal from his announcement in September that he would run again. Reyes, in the video, also said he had met with women accusing Ballard of misconduct, has apologized to them for his role in elevating Ballard and OUR, and said that his office would launch a criminal investigation into their allegations.

Because of his friendship with Ballard, Reyes said he would be recused from any involvement in the investigation.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and Tim Ballard, founder of Operation Underground Railroad, pose for a photo at the group's "Share Our Light" gala in Salt Lake City, Saturday November 5, 2016. Reyes was honored for his contribution to anti-trafficking.

Woods Cross Republican Sen. Todd Weiler, who signed the letter, said, “I don’t see any reason why we would cancel the audit.”

“There are a lot of questions that have been raised,” he said. “For me, one of the reasons I signed the letter was that he’s been refusing to release his travel schedule for the last couple of years and I think taxpayers should know that.”

The Tribune filed an open records request for Reyes’ calendar as part of its investigation into his travel. The office refused to release and rejected an appeal. KSL-TV also requested the attorney general’s calendar, was refused and won an appeal before the State Records Committee that the attorney general’s office is now suing to overturn.

Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Murray, said that, with Reyes becoming the third consecutive attorney general whose tenure has been tainted by ethical and legal issues, it is important that lawmakers try to understand why that is the case.

Reyes’ two predecessors, Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow, were both charged with multiple felonies over their conduct in office. The charges against Shurtleff were dropped. Swallow resigned amid multiple investigations into his actions but was later acquitted at trial.

“I absolutely think the audit should go forward,” Stoddard said. “Outside of [Reyes’] issues with Tim Ballard and OUR, we obviously have got something going on inside the A.G.’s office that continues to invite corruption, and if we don’t figure out what is going on and what’s causing that, we’re just going to keep getting the same result.”

The audit is in the early stages and assigned to Deputy Auditor General Brian Dean and Audit Supervisor Ryan Thelin. Last month, after the Legislature’s Audit Subcommittee green-lighted the project and Legislative Auditor General Kade Minchey said an audit of the scope of the one requested would take eight months to a year to complete.