CRIME

Former freelancer for Exitus calls CEO ‘con artist’

Sep 17, 2023, 11:30 PM | Updated: Sep 18, 2023, 2:32 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — A former freelancer for an anti-human trafficking organization whose founder is now in jail on fraud charges, is calling Exitus founder and CEO Candace Lierd a ‘con artist,’ saying Lierd, who went by Candace Rivera, fraudulently used his name and lied to him.

In an official statement released on Instagram, Matt Johnson, who Exitus listed as its Business Relations Manager, said he worked closely with Candace and Exitus and was unaware of any lies, fraud, or mishandling of business.

“I have severed all ties with Candace and Exitus due to everything that has come to light,” he wrote.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office charged Lierd with 34 counts, including fraud, theft, and forgery related to Exitus.

According to the AG’s office, Lierd made false representations to donors, used some of the money for personal expenses, including homes, apartments, cars, and trips, and made claims of being a physician, physician’s assistant, and nurse but was never registered or licensed in Utah.

“A while ago, I knew some things were off, and I asked not to be involved in any of her dealings and requested not to participate in any business activities beyond what I was hired to do. And requested limited communication with Candace,” Johnson wrote in his Instagram post. “In the last 24 hours, I have been in contact with the authorities, sharing my side of things, and am cooperating with them in whatever ways I can.”

He continued: “In my personal opinion, Candace is a con artist. Over the last 24 hours, I have discovered that she has used my name in fraudulent ways.”

 

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A post shared by Matt Johnson (@mattdjohnson23)


According to Lierd’s website, which was still active as of Sunday, the CEO has spoken at conferences and events around the world and has built up a strong network in the anti-human trafficking community.

She lists a dozen different events she spoke at or was set to speak at. Organizers for one of the events, which took place in Ogden in May, confirmed to KSL TV that Candace did not speak at the event and did not attend.

A screenshot of Candace Lierd's website showcasing the events she spoke at. (

A screenshot of Candace Lierd’s website showcasing the events she spoke at. (KSL TV)

In his post, Johnson apologized to whomever was misled or caused harm.

“The claims that I am a part of Exitus’s board and am in charge of the company in any capacity are completely false,” he wrote. “I have only been hired as a freelance contractor to create social media content for Exitus and volunteer when helping survivors of trafficking.”

Johnson is featured in Exitus Instagram posts and videos, including one where he advertises a hike to Silver Lake with a woman who summited Mount Everest to help spread awareness against human trafficking.

The Unified Police Department is also featured in an Exitus post from last May when the organization said it provided services for victims of human trafficking during a massage parlor bust.

KSL TV reached out to UPD to clarify what services Exitus provided, and to what degree the organization worked with the department.

 

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A post shared by EXITUS (@joinexitus)

“Candace has personally lied to me about who she is and misled me to believe many things about her and her dealings with individuals, both personally and in business,” Johnson wrote.

He said this has impacted his life in many ways, as well as his family and reputation.

“I apologize to those who are being affected by this; it is extremely disappointing and disheartening. Today is a very sad day for anti-trafficking work. I truly believed in the mission of Exitus and saw how the work was helping so many,” Johnson said, in his post.

Facebook posts show Lierd working with organizations like Open Hearts for Orphans, where a post details how Lierd rescued a medically fragile child being adopted from Ukraine.

The post explains that the very first “One by One” Medical Advocacy grant recipient is on U.S. soil, thanks to Candace and Exitus. It’s unclear if Lierd used her alleged fake medical background in the rescue.

KSL TV has contacted Open Hearts for Orphans and is awaiting a response.

In another Facebook post, a woman named Katy Epling talks about raising money for Exitus for the people of Ukraine. According to updates shared by both Epling and Exitus, the funds raised exceeded $10,000.

KSL TV has reached out to Epling about the funds in light of the accusations that Lierd used fundraising money for personal gain.

Johnson wrote that Candace’s actions in no way represent his morals and beliefs, and anything that suggests otherwise has been due to lies he was told to believe or misrepresentation on her behalf to others.

“I am sickened and hurt by this,” Johnson expressed. “I have been made to believe that a close friend over the past 5 years was someone completely different, and I cannot express how apologetic I am for those who have been hurt by this personally, financially, and publicly. I know I am not alone.”

Lierd is currently being held in the Utah County Jail without bond, the Utah Attorney General’s Office reported as the investigation continues.

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Former freelancer for Exitus calls CEO ‘con artist’