LOCAL NEWS

State audit issued for Utah Attorney General’s Office

Nov 14, 2023, 3:16 PM | Updated: 8:42 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — A state audit has been issued for the Utah Attorney General’s office. More than two dozen lawmakers, the majority of whom are Republican, have formally requested a legislative audit to investigate parts of the Utah Attorney General’s Office and Attorney General Sean Reyes’ relationship with Operation Underground Railroad founder Tim Ballard. 

Specifically, the 26 lawmakers want to know whether Reyes and Ballard’s relationship involved any state resources, or whether that relationship impeded Reyes’ “impartiality or prosecutorial discretion.” They also want to know whether that relationship involved any “engagement” by Reyes with any outside prosecutors.

KSL TV obtained a copy of the letter through a public records request which asks that the Legislative Audit Committee approve the request. 

20231113 Audit Request Re Oversight of Attorney Generals Office[55] by KSL TV on Scribd

The group — made up of 20 Republicans and six Democrats — also call for auditors to look into the AG office’s governance, culture, and travel policies and practices. The request was approved Tuesday.

“We have been concerned about the governance and oversight of the AG’s Office, well before any allegations came to light raising suspicion into the relationship of the AG with Tim Ballard, OUR, and the production of the Sound of Freedom movie,” the letter reads. 

 ”Given the important role that the AG plays in upholding the constitutions of the United States and the State of Utah, enforcing the law, and protecting the interests of the State of Utah and its people, environment, and resources we believe that a Legislative Audit is warranted,” the group wrote. 

The group is specifically asking for approval for auditors to investigate the following:

  1. The governance of the AG’s Office and determine the sufficiency and adequacy of how legal and administrative decisions are presented, deliberated, approved, and documented.
  2. The travel policies and practices of the AG’s Office and determine if travel is appropriate and documented in accordance with policies and rules.
  3. The culture of the AG’s Office and whether staff, and those directly served by the AG’s office, believe that the office is run efficiently and effectively.
  4. The extent to which any relationship AG has with Ballard, OUR or SOF (i) involved utilization of state resources; (ii) involved engagement by the AG with outside prosecutors; or (iii) impaired the impartial judgment or prosecutorial discretion of the AG.

The Legislative Audit Committee is made up of the state’s Senate President and Vice President, House Speaker and Majority Leader along with the highest-ranking Senate and House Democratic leaders. Collectively, they decide which state agencies get audited. Any lawmaker can formally request an audit, however not every request gets approved.  

State Senator Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork says the sheer number of lawmakers who’ve signed on, and the fact that they’re from both parties and both chambers signals there’s growing concern on Utah’s capitol hill.

“Typically an audit is going to have one or two legislators sign on to it. Having a number that is significant, it is unique. And it’s it signals to me that there is there’s real concern right now with the Attorney General’s Office specifically with the Attorney General,” he said.

State Representative Ken Ivory, R- Salt Lake City, said the audit was not a reaction to the lawsuits surrounding Operation Underground Railroad, and that like all branches of government, they make sure “on a rolling basis” that people are getting what they’re paying for.

“This isn’t specific to any particular thing. This isn’t because of what we’ve seen from Operation Underground Railroad particularly, but you know that has raised questions. So that just adds to the interest that we have, and that we’ve heard from our constituents; that the people want to know that their money is being applied appropriately and efficiently in the attorney general’s office,” Ivory said.

“We welcome working with legislative auditors to get them the information they seek. We are confident they will see what we already know: the Office of the Utah AGO does great work. We are proud of our personnel, leadership, and the cases we file to protect the people of Utah,” the Utah Attorney General’s Office said in a statement.

Reyes and Ballard are longtime friends and have worked together to raise awareness about human trafficking.

Reyes previously issued a statement following a press conference in September held by an attorney representing at least five women alleging sexual misconduct by Ballard, the founder and former CEO of Operation Underground Railroad.

In the weeks that followed, the same five women filed an amended complaint in a civil lawsuit accusing Reyes of witness tampering. The lawsuit claims that Reyes served as “de facto general counsel” to Operation Underground Railroad.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office released a lengthy statement calling the allegations that Reyes was withholding investigations into Ballard, “completely baseless.”

“AG Reyes categorically denies that he ever intimidated any witness or attempted in any way to interfere or keep witnesses from testifying or cooperating with an investigation by the Davis County attorney or any other agency,” the statement says. “These allegations … are false, defamatory per se and unethical as they are based on pure speculation and have no basis in fact.”

Reyes first went on an undercover, overseas mission with OUR in 2014.

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State audit issued for Utah Attorney General’s Office