FBI director in Utah fields questions on the state’s pressing issues

SALT LAKE CITY – The head of the FBI in Salt Lake City updated the media on some of the most pressing issues facing the state – from investigating hate crimes to the rising number of bank robberies.

Special agent in charge, Eric Barnhart of the FBI’s Salt Lake City field office, met with reporters on Tuesday for a round table discussion.  He said morale is high despite President Trump’s claim that he fired James Comey and replaced him with Christopher Wray, because agents didn’t have confidence in him.

“He enjoyed broad support," Barnhart said.  "I imagine Director Wray is going to, from all accounts and the sort of person he's been described as, he's going to enjoy something very similar.”

Right now, the FBI is devoting time to the Department of Justice civil rights investigation where a man has been charged with murder in the fatal attack at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA.  Barnhart said locally, there hasn’t been an uptick in hate crimes, but it is definitely on the FBI's radar.

“We always tell people look, don`t write an innocent narrative.  Let us check it out," Barnhart said.  "We may know more about the situation and the person than you.  You're not wasting our time.   It could save a life."

Barnhart also addressed the capture of Lyle Jeffs.  The polygamist leader was on the run for nearly a year while awaiting trial on food stamp fraud charges.  Tips from the public led investigators to South Dakota in June.

“People ask why did it take so long?  We knew it was a matter of time.  We had a good feeling his network was limited, his resources were limited.”

While international terrorism remains a high priority for the FBI, investigators are constantly monitoring issues here at home such as bank robberies.

“We think that 95% plus of our bank robberies here in Utah are probably drug-related,” Barnhart said.

Fraud is also a huge problem.  “Businesses are ruined and life savings are stolen.”

Barnhart said Utah is a haven for white-collar crime.   The FBI works closely with Utah businesses to stay ahead of their adversaries.