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Utah County Attorney calls for outside review of sheriff over ritual child abuse investigation

Jun 1, 2022, 6:46 PM | Updated: Jun 2, 2022, 8:49 am

PROVO, Utah – Utah County Attorney David Leavitt, vying for re-election, said Wednesday the reopening of a decades-old case naming him in allegations of ritual child abuse is a political attack.

He called for a review of the case and of Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith, one day after Smith’s office announced an investigation of reports of ritualistic child sexual abuse that occurred in Utah, Juab and Sanpete counties between 1990 and 2010.

“The sheriff’s office is using its position for political gain,” Leavitt said.

Smith strongly denied the claim. The two top law enforcers in the county traded barbs in unusual, back-to-back news conferences Wednesday.

The vague announcement from the sheriff’s office Tuesday doesn’t name Leavitt. Rather, Leavitt was the one to confirm he’s named in a victim statement contained in hundreds of pages of police investigative reports he said are tied to the investigation.

Leavitt said the investigation is tied to a case that was dismissed in 2014 and said an outside review could ferret out whether Smith dug up old documents for political reasons.

“I challenge him to resign himself if his office is being used for such illicit political purposes,” Leavitt said during a news conference at his office in Provo. He noted the primary election is just weeks away and said ballots will be mailed out to voters within days.

Smith said he’s not resigning, and he believes investigating crimes against children is a good use of public money.

“This is not a politically motivated investigation,” he told reporters at his office in Spanish Fork Wednesday.

As for the timing of Tuesday’s release, Smith said the investigation got to a point where his employees believed there were other victims and wanted to gather information from them.

Smith would not name any suspects or confirm Leavitt was connected to the current investigation.

“I believe that Leavitt is using his authority and his pulpit to bully, distract and mischaracterize the facts of an ongoing investigation,” Smith said.

Leavitt said he only learned Tuesday that a witness statement tied to the 2012 investigation contained disturbing allegations against him and his wife.

“I learned that my wife and I were part of those allegations, alleging that we were guilty of cannibalizing young children and murdering young children.” He vehemently denied them.

Leavitt noted that prosecutors filed charges against one man roughly 10 years ago but said the case was subsequently dismissed “because the evidence was so outlandish and so unbelievable.”

Leavitt said the man ultimately charged in connection with the allegations was his neighbor for a time and someone he knew from church. Leavitt said he testified against the man at a divorce proceeding because he believed the man to be a danger to his children.

A prosecutor made a motion to dismiss charges of child rape and sexual abuse “due to trouble getting discovery to defense counsel,” according to court records. The case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning it can be refiled at a later date.

Leavitt provided copies of a 151-page document labeled as a “victim statement” that describes the alleged crimes in detail. The statement names Leavitt and more than a dozen others as part of a group that practiced ritual sexual abuse of children.

The KSL Investigators also obtained a copy through a public records request to the Provo Police Department.

Leavitt called the report “151 pages of utter baloney” and described the woman who reported the allegations to authorities as “tragically mentally ill.”

Smith took aim at that characterization. “These are victims of crime who have mustered the courage to come forward, and this is what we call them is mentally ill?”

Smith said victims of alleged crimes should not be shamed or intimidated for having the courage to come forward.

While Leavitt mentioned cannibalism and murder, Smith said the investigation is focused on ritualistic child sexual abuse and child sex trafficking. The sheriff’s office investigation began in April 2021, and their digging led them to similar crimes that investigators believe took place between 1990 and 2010 in Utah, Sanpete and Juab counties.

Smith said his deputies are working with the sheriff’s offices in Juab and Sanpete counties, along with the Nephi and Provo police departments and the FBI to investigate. An FBI spokeswoman confirmed the agency is assisting in the effort.

Since asking for anyone with knowledge of the alleged crimes to come forward on Tuesday, the sheriff said at least 20 people have gotten in touch to say they were either victimized or know someone who was.

Leavitt, a Republican, was elected county attorney in 2018. He and the sheriff’s office have previously sparred over Leavitt’s decision to dismantle the Special Victims Unit in the county attorney’s office. They’ve also been at odds over Leavitt’s plans to move away from offering plea deals in favor of more trials and prosecute fewer low-level drug crimes.

The Utah County Fraternal Order of Police issued a letter of “no confidence” in Leavitt. The county attorney has said criticism was bound to follow his efforts at reforming the criminal justice system.

Smith has endorsed Leavitt’s challenger, Jeff Gray, in the county attorney’s race.

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Utah County Attorney calls for outside review of sheriff over ritual child abuse investigation