SALT LAKE CITY — Local prosecutors and the FBI are investigating Utah Lt. Governor Greg Bell and whether he improperly influenced an audit of a child abuse case, the Davis County Attorney confirmed to FOX 13.
The criminal investigation centers around an audit Bell apparently ordered in 2011 into a child abuse case, reportedly involving a family friend.
In a statement Thursday, Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said his office was investigating “that governmental power and public monies were abused, outside the scope of legitimate authority, to thwart the outcome of a singular child abuse case.”
The audit, Rawlings claims, was to be used by defense attorneys in the child abuse case to discredit the state’s evidence. However, he said, it was “pulled back or minimalized once relevant parties discovered that an investigation by Davis County into the audit, how it was conducted, why it was conducted and its underlying purpose had commenced.”
Rawlings also wrote that the FBI was involved. An agency spokeswoman would not comment on any investigation into the Lt. Governor or his role in the audit, but sources told FOX 13 multiple people have already been questioned.
FOX 13 obtained a copy of the audit under a public records request. It was heavily redacted, with entire pages blacked out. The title of the audit was partially redacted and flagged “protected and confidential.”
“The Lt. Governor’s Office asked for an independent review of the Division of Child and Family Services’ (DCFS or Division),” the introduction of the audit begins, before a line is redacted, “… and the sufficiency of the Division’s policies and procedures regarding (redacted).”
A letter sent to Governor Gary Herbert by Department of Human Services Director Palmer DePaulis suggested that the Lt. Governor’s influence in the case was leading to his retirement.
“Lt. Governor Bell involved himself in a DCFS case in which he had a personal interest,” DePaulis wrote in the letter, obtained by FOX 13 under a public records request. “I reassured him that the case was being handled correctly, but he seemed unconvinced.”
DePaulis said it was “within this context” that he has decided to discuss his retirement.
“I am now being undermined by the Lt. Governor, and I believe that he will retaliate against me, and try to remove my DCFS director and other staff involved in this case,” he wrote.
On Thursday, Governor Herbert defended his second-in-command.
“I’ve met with Lt. Governor Bell. I’ve met with Palmer DePaulis. They did have some issues, but Palmer DePaulis is retiring of his own volition,” Herbert said at his monthly news conference on KUED. “It has nothing to do with this issue.”
Herbert defended the audit and Bell, saying the executive branch has a responsibility to provide “oversight.”
“I’ve got all the confidence in the world in Lt. Governor Greg Bell, who has not done anything inappropriate,” Herbert told reporters. “He is as honest as the day is long and he’s a man without guile.”
The government watchdog group Utahns for Ethical Government said it had serious concerns about the Lt. Governor, whose position is largely ceremonial, ordering the audit for a family friend.
“I suspect it’s probably not standard practice,” said David Irvine, Utahns for Ethical Government. “It probably only happens when someone is in a position of authority and wants to do a favor for a friend.”
Irvine noted that this is the second instance involving a criminal investigation into a member of the executive branch. Utah Attorney General John Swallow is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into whether he helped a St. George businessman influence a federal investigation.
“It underscores, for us, a necessity for having a code of ethics that executive branch officers are expected to adhere to,” Irvine said. “There presently is none.”