Utah judge overrides probation plea deal, sentences entrepreneur to prison

Aug 4, 2023, 8:51 PM | Updated: Aug 7, 2023, 6:25 am

This report is part of a series examining how apparent gaps at every level of Utah’s criminal justice system fail to protect Utahns.

PROVO, Utah – A “gifted swindler,” and “dangerous predator” – words women used to describe a Utah entrepreneur during his sentencing hearing Friday.

Former “Shark Tank” contestant Nathanael “Nate” Holzapfel, 44, was charged with scamming women out of hundreds of thousands of dollars and sexually abusing some of his victims.

He showed up to his sentencing in Provo on Friday expecting to leave the courthouse a free man, after previously accepting a plea deal aimed at keeping him out of prison and off the sex offender registry.

That deal crumbled after the judge heard from women Holzapfel was charged with defrauding and sexually abusing, and in an unexpected turn of events, Holzapfel left the courtroom in handcuffs.

The plea deal

Walking into the Utah County Courthouse with his children by his side, Holzapfel told the KSL Investigators he had been advised by attorneys to not make any public statements.

He then proceeded to say, “Unfortunately, the way the system works is that you do get a little bit hung before you’re even tried. Innocent until proven guilty in America, in part, thanks to KSL.”

But Holzapfel pleaded guilty in June, admitting to devising schemes to defraud three women, and inappropriately touching three others. The plea agreement resolved eight pending cases against Holzapfel, with more than a dozen charges against him dismissed.

Holzapfel Outside Court

Nate Holzapfel, 44, speaks with the KSL Investigators on the way to court for his sentencing hearing. (Josh Szymanik/KSL TV)

Felony forcible sexual abuse charges were reduced to misdemeanor sexual battery charges, of which he pleaded guilty to three counts – the maximum number of misdemeanor sexual battery charges a person can be convicted of in Utah without being required to register as a sex offender.

According to the plea agreement, Holzapfel agreed to pay some of the money back ($300,000) and spend four years on probation, receiving credit for 122 days already served in jail.

The deal also included a clause allowing Holzapfel to withdraw his guilty plea if the court rejected the sentence recommended in the plea agreement.

‘Please put a stop to this’

One after another, survivors in the case shared how Holzapfel’s crimes impacted them and asked the court to protect others.

One woman said she met Holzapfel at the most vulnerable time in her life, 13 months after her spouse of 27 years passed away.

“Nate, I trusted you while you were grooming me to take my money,” she said.

She described struggling emotionally and financially, working two jobs as Holzapfel profited from the partial life insurance settlement she received after her husband’s death.

“My life has forever been changed as a result of swiping right, matching with a married man on a dating website,” she said.

Another woman, Sammi Turnbow, identified herself as the first survivor of Holzapfel’s sexual crimes to come forward. She described an encounter in which she said Holzapfel pinned her against a truck and sexually assaulted her.

“During the assault, he said things like, ‘If I wanted to rape you, I would have done it already. Relax,’” said Turnbow.

“He also informed me that night that he had a team of attorneys working for him,” she said. “I was in terror for what seemed like an eternity, frozen, shocked, and terrified that it was happening and not knowing how to make it stop.”

Turnbow said she was not happy with the terms of the plea deal, but reluctantly agreed to it so the victims of Holzapfel’s financial crimes could recoup some of their money.

“I am disappointed that his threats were realized,” she said. “He does, in fact, have a team of attorneys who did exactly what he said they would do. He bought his way out.”

Courtney Morton

Courtney Morton read a victim impact statement in court Friday at Holzapfel’s sentencing. (Josh Szymanik/KSLTV)

Through tears, a third woman, Courtney Morton, said the stories of the other women are all too familiar. She said she met Holzapfel within months of her father’s death.

“I was promised the world and was delivered a nightmare,” she said. “It’s all purposeful and I can see that now. Everything is plotted and planned down to the exact same things that he tells each of his victims.”

Morton said Holzapfel told her he loved her and wanted to marry her and start a new life. She said she has since lost her home, the vehicle that was outfitted for her son who requires a wheelchair, and she’s had to be in intensive therapy.

“He also told me that he could kill me and get away with it,” she said. “He is a predator. He preys upon the very most vulnerable in society. I implore you to please put a stop to this today.”

A prison sentence

One of Holzapfel’s defense attorneys, Nathan Crane, told the judge the plea deal was the result of months of negotiation and represents a fair resolution, and that his client has taken responsibility.

But Fourth District Judge Thomas Low voiced concern over Crane’s use of the term “tentative guilty plea,” and said the court never bound itself to the plea agreement.

“If the court’s indicating that it’s not going to follow the recommendation as presented, then Mr. Holzapfel has a right to withdraw his guilty pleas,” Crane said.

“He does not have the right to withdraw his guilty pleas,” Low said.

Crane then asked to withdraw as Holzapfel’s attorney, a request Low denied.

Given an opportunity to speak before sentencing, Holzapfel called some of the victims in the case “the nicest people in the whole darn world, just lovely, nice people,” and said he was sorry they were “drug into this.”

“I really do feel sorry for everybody who’s so upset over things. And I can understand why. There’s a lot going on here,” he said. “And it’s my sincerest concern about, about the issues, whatever, I want everyone to feel good.”

Judge Low then deviated from the plea agreement, sentencing Holzapfel to serve one to 15 years in the Utah State Prison in one of the felony fraud cases, and three concurrent sentences of 364 days for each of the sexual battery counts to which Holzapfel pleaded guilty.

“I understand that this negotiation was developed over a long period of time and that’s been made clear to the court,” Judge Low said. “But the treachery and the abuse that has occurred also occurred over a long period of time. The life-altering impacts you have had on these victims … are shocking.”

Courtroom bailiffs handcuffed Holzapfel and took him into custody immediately after the sentencing.

‘Money for justice’

Emails reviewed by the KSL Investigators reveal prosecutor Pete Reichman told Turnbow in August 2022 that his office believed Holzapfel needed to be a registered sex offender and could not accept a plea offer without that provision.

Turnbow said the ultimate agreement reached was disappointing, and she worries it doesn’t go far enough to protect the public.

“They accepted that deal,” she said of the Utah County Attorney’s Office. “He traded money for justice.”

Reichman said the deal his office settled on was the best they could get the defense to agree to while accomplishing several goals, including the restitution payments for some of the victims.

“Yeah, it was a good deal for him,” he said. “But there was a lot left on the table as far as potential consequences for him in the future. Sometimes, [we] have to play the long game.”

Reichman said they also had to balance their objectives with the risk of losing at trial.

While none of the women who spoke in court Friday were happy with the terms of the deal, they all agreed they wanted to put the case behind them.

“I am thrilled about the outcome today,” said Morton, following Holzapfel’s courtroom arrest.


Longtime defense attorney Greg Skordas said Judge Low’s decision is sure to be reviewed by a higher court. He said in this type of plea deal, a judge’s choice to sentence outside of the terms of the plea agreement would typically allow either party to withdraw their consent.

“They thought they had an agreement that said that. The judge didn’t think that he was bound by that agreement, and in fact, imposed a sentence greater than was contemplated in their agreement. And then said, ‘I’m not going to allow you to withdraw the plea.’ So, I assume the defense may very well appeal that decision,” said Skordas.

With Holzapfel now incarcerated, that appeal could happen soon, he said.

“You would expect that his lawyers would work very quickly and get an appeal filed and get something before the Court of Appeals as soon as possible,” he said. “They may also try to negotiate with the state and even with the judge at some point about some sort of compromise.”

Crane, Holzapfel’s attorney, was not available for comment following the hearing.

‘I’m finally free’

Turnbow said she felt she was treated like a number during the three-year court process and wanted to be seen in court Friday as a real person, deeply impacted by Holzapfel’s crimes.

She said despite asking multiple times, she was not provided a victim advocate and was consistently not notified about hearings in the case, including the hearing in which Holzapfel entered his guilty plea.

“If a victim has asked to be part of the court proceedings, and has asked to be notified of court proceedings, and they were not, then someone involved with the prosecution dropped the ball,” Skordas said. “I’m not saying that’s what happened here, but certainly victims have the right to be notified of all court proceedings in cases where they are the victim.”

Reichman said his office tries to send out email notifications to victims about hearings in the cases they’re involved in.

“If she didn’t get that, then I sincerely apologize,” he said. “That’s on me.”

Sammi Turnbow

Sammi Turnbow urged other survivors to speak their truth and not be afraid. (Josh Szymanik/KSLTV)

Turnbow exited the courtroom with her hands in the air and a smile on her face, relieved after watching bailiffs take Holzapfel into custody.

“I spoke out today because I feel like there’s this culture of victim shaming,” she said. “And what I realized is, I don’t need to be embarrassed for that. I do not need to be embarrassed because that predator came and attacked me and assaulted me for nearly 45 minutes in a parking lot.”

While engaging in the justice process as a survivor was difficult, Turnbow encouraged others to come forward and report sexual crimes.

“Because I spoke out, because I shared my story and the details of that horrid assault, that man is now going to prison. And that was not the case this morning,” she said. “He’s in cuffs, and I am finally free.”

If you have experienced sexual violence, you can access help and resources by calling Utah’s 24-hour Sexual Violence Helpline at 1-888-421-1100. You can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 for free, confidential counseling.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

Failure to Protect

Prosecutors filed felony charges in a Salt Lake City rape case from 2019, but later reduced them to...

Daniella Rivera

Could making this change help Utah improve sexual assault prosecutions?

Only a fraction of sexual assaults reported to police in Utah result in criminal charges for the perpetrator, but a legislative proposal could potentially change that.

2 months ago

a poster celebrating sexual assault awareness...

Daniella Rivera

‘Please report’: Salt Lake County leaders urge survivors of sexual assault to come forward

To kick off sexual assault awareness month, advocates and law enforcers are drawing attention to Utah’s low sexual assault reporting rate.

2 months ago

Joshua Homer appears in court in Weber County on Oct. 18, 2022....

Daniella Rivera and Keira Fairmont, KSL-TV

Rapist at the center of KSL Investigation ‘Failure to Protect’ pleads guilty

Guilty: An accused serial predator in Utah, who’s had more than a decade of allegations against him is now a convicted rapist following a KSL Investigation.

3 months ago

More than two dozen people packed a parole board hearing room on March 5, 2024, to support survivor...

Daniella Rivera, KSL-TV

Utah parole board reconsidering sex offender’s release after hearing from victims

In a packed parole hearing Monday, survivors urged Utah’s Board of Pardons and Parole to keep a repeat sexual offender behind bars. The hearing followed reporting by the KSL Investigators about failures to notify victims that their perpetrators are up for parole and ongoing efforts to improve the system.

3 months ago

Leah Moses...

Annie Knox

Utah lawmakers pass ‘Om’s Law,’ focused on child safety in custody decisions

Utah lawmakers gave final passage to bill requiring judges to consider evidence of domestic violence raised in child custody cases.

3 months ago

Proposed legislation aimed at boosting Utah's low sexual assault prosecution rate appears to be sta...

Daniella Rivera

Will lawmakers consider bill to boost Utah’s low rate of sex assault prosecutions?

Imagine being sexually assaulted, reporting to police, getting a forensic exam at the hospital and still being told your perpetrator can't be prosecuted under Utah's current rape law. That happens more than you might think, but Utah lawmakers have been reluctant to adopt what experts say is a sound solution.

5 months ago

Sponsored Articles

Photo courtesy of Artists of Ballet West...

Ballet West

The rising demand for ballet tickets: why they’re harder to get

Ballet West’s box office is experiencing demand they’ve never seen before, leaving many interested patrons unable to secure tickets they want.

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 internet safety tips for kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why printer security should be top of mind for your business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light up your home with these top lighting trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for hassle-free computer repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Utah judge overrides probation plea deal, sentences entrepreneur to prison