Victims react after Exitus CEO denied bail
Sep 26, 2023, 6:53 PM | Updated: 6:57 pm
PROVO —A judge denied bail for the Utah CEO of anti-human trafficking organization Exitus on Tuesday. Simultaneously, new accusations were made against her, and prosecutors said she’s likely to be charged with more crimes.
Candace Lierd, previously Candace Rivera was arrested on more than 30 charges including theft, fraud, and forgery. On Tuesday afternoon during the hearing, a group of mostly women showed up to the district courthouse in Provo and sat in the front row of the courtroom.
They hugged each other and some of them began crying. They held hands and put their arms around each other for support.
Some said they were scammed by Lierd financially, while others said they were volunteers or human trafficking survivors whose time and stories were used for Lierd’s personal financial gain.
One of the women who said she was scammed, was Charlene Paul.
She said she was the first person contacted by the Utah Attorney General’s Office in their investigation into Lierd back in June. Paul had written a book that she said Lierd promised to sell and promote on her behalf. Lierd had even read the manuscript and written the forward, Paul said.
But Paul said Lierd put the book earnings in an account Paul had no access to.
“She collected all the money. I’ve never received a penny from any of the books that have been sold to date,” she said.
Paul watched Lierd walk into the courtroom for the bail hearing, with her head down and eyes looking away from Paul and the others.
“The fact that her head is held low, she could not look or refused to look at any of these other people sitting with me,” Paul said. “I can’t say that I felt a whole lot of anything other than; ‘you are exactly where you need to be. You’ve hurt enough people, and it’s time to stop.'”
Another woman who sat watching Lierd was Faleshia, who wantedher last name withheld for privacy reasons. She said she is a survivor, helped by Exitus. Faleshia was also a volunteer for the organization and sat on the survivor panel.
“We were exploited for our experiences and our stories to raise funds,” she said. “Funds that I didn’t know didn’t go to the places we were telling people they were supposed to go.”
It’s stories like Faleshia’s that led to the multitude of charges against Lierd.
But she wanted to get out of jail Tuesday. The public defender argued that Lierd wasn’t a flight risk, and that the charges didn’t warrant being kept in jail on no bail.
“These allegations don’t appear to be a danger to anybody,” attorney Mark Petersen said. “No one’s physical safety is put at risk.”
He asked for Lierd’s bail to be set at a “reasonable” level, saying she assured Petersen that she could pay a $10,000 cash bond.
But prosecutors argued that if Lierd was released, she’d likely continue victimizing more people.
Attorney Craig Peterson brought forth new accusations beyond what’s already been detailed in the lengthy probable cause statement filed by the Utah Attorney General.
He explained that since Lierd’s arrest, more victims have come forward. He said one case involves $64,000 in communications fraud meant for two ambulances in Ukraine. He alleged Lierd pocketed that money and forged two registrations for the ambulances.
In another, Peterson said Lierd forged bank credit statements and used deceit to obtain $110,000 that was meant to be invested into a spa.
He explained that it’s likely more charges will be filed against Lierd.
Peterson said Lierd has victimized dozens of people without conscience or care.
“Her victimization goes across all– this is what our concern is with her release– it goes from stranger to friend, and everything in between,” he said. “There’s no one she hasn’t or won’t take advantage of.”
Judge Christine Johnson agreed and denied Lierd bail. The group sitting across the front row breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Paul said they had all gotten together before the hearing for brunch, and shared stories and tears about what happened to them.
“Everybody feels that she’s not going to be able to victimize anybody from where she’s at right now,” she said, of the bail denial.
Faleshia again got emotional after court, as she’s had to grapple with the real help Exitus provided for herself and others, now paired with the accusations against Lierd. She said she was reminded by walking into court with the others that she’s not alone. Lierd’s many victims are now leaning on each other for support as they move forward, while Lierd stays in jail.
Faleshia and three others who say they were victimized all hugged outside the courtroom.
“Seeing and feeling the embraces and knowing that I don’t have to go silent anymore… and knowing that I can share the light while there is darkness,” Faleshia said. “Don’t ever go silent. And, you are still very much believed and our stories are very much real.”