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Utah Attorney General’s Office Announces Guilty Plea in Bountiful Human Trafficking Case

Davis County, Utah  February 18, 2017 – The Office of the Utah Attorney General announced today the guilty plea on Thursday of Todd Jeremy Rettenberger to charges relating to human trafficking and related crimes.  Rettenberger was sentenced to one to fifteen years in prison for second-degree felony human trafficking and zero to five years for third-degree felony exploitation of prostitution. The sentences will run concurrently.

“The victims of this trafficker were girls, barely older than teens, forced into prostitution against their will and compelled to stay in “the life” by threats against their well-being and against their families. I am thrilled they will not have to endure a trial and be forced to relive the atrocities perpetrated upon them.  It is imperative that we now keep these survivors safe, avoid revictimizing them, empower them with resources and do everything we can to help them heal and reclaim their lives,” said Attorney General Sean Reyes. “Importantly, this case demonstrates that human trafficking is real. It exists in Utah as it does across the nation and around the world. It takes many forms and can happen anywhere.

“I offer my sincerest thanks and congratulations to Assistant Attorney General Dan Strong who brought the charges and to our elite investigative unit, the Utah SECURE Strikeforce, for their work on this case. I also want to thank and acknowledge Detective Aric Barker of the Bountiful City Police Department, his agency, and his chief, for their efforts to bring this human trafficker to justice and protect these victims.  Lastly, I reiterate my deep appreciation to each federal, state, county and city law enforcement agency that works side-by-side with the Utah AGO every day to disrupt human trafficking and related crimes in all their insidious forms.”

Rettenberger was charged in April of 2016 after police received reports that he was running a commercial sex operation out of Bountiful, along the Wasatch Front, and into other states. The Utah Attorney General’s Office’s SECURE Strike Force in conjunction with the Bountiful City Police Department investigated the allegations and found two women who were victimized by Rettenberger as part of this operation.  The women alleged that Rettenberger used forceful and coercive tactics, including threats of violence, physical violence, exploitation of their drug dependencies, and financial coercion.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office administers and coordinates the SECURE Strike Force partnership with the Utah Department of Public Safety and county, federal and city law enforcement agencies to combat violent and other major felony crimes associated with illegal immigration and human trafficking.

The mission of the Utah Attorney General SECURE Strike Force is to carefully target major fraud, organized gun, drug and human trafficking, detect creation of fraudulent government identification and other documents, and prosecute these crimes with specialized investigators and resources and a dedicated Assistant Attorney General prosecutor. The SECURE Strike Force works closely with the Utah Trafficking in Person’s Task Force. Learn more about the SECURE Strike Force here

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Attorney General Reyes Testifies in Support of HB199

Proposed law would fight the trafficking of adopted children

SALT LAKE CITY February 16, 2017 – A bill before the Utah legislature would implement safeguards to protect adopted children from “rehoming,” the illegal practice of adoptive parents giving away their adopted children away to strangers without the usual home study or background checks performed to protect children. At the invitation of the US Department of State, the Utah Attorney General’s Office joined national a committee two years ago tasked with addressing the illegal phenomenon and exploring model legislation for other states around the country. The bill, HB 199, was passed out of the House Judiciary Committee with a favorable recommendation.

“Getting the bill out of committee is a positive step in the right direction,” said Attorney General Sean Reyes. “This bill isn’t designed to be overly punitive towards adoptive parents.  We know the vast majority of adoptive parents have only the most noble of intentions when bringing adopted children into their families. But the reality is that many adopted kids coming from overseas environments have been victims of terrible abuse in war-torn countries or experienced severe trauma from the horrors of torture, famine, abuse or other atrocities.  Some adoptive parents who become overwhelmed by the cultural, emotional and psychological challenges of highly traumatized children, panic and end up desperate.  In too many situations, parents have literally given away their children to strangers like they might with old furniture, beginning with an online communication or transaction.

“This bill provides these adoptive parents more resources to face such challenges or find another adoptive family through legal processes rather than simply giving away, selling or abandoning their adopted child.  Without a law at the federal and state level prohibiting this kind of transfer of custody, thousands of kids will continue to be placed into the hands of human traffickers, pimps, rapists and other predators. In short, this bill is absolutely necessary to protect children and assist adoptive families. It allows the state to better educate and inform adoptive parents going into an adoption, empowering them to be more informed and prepared. And it more effectively keeps children out of the hands of potential abusers and predators.”

The practice of rehoming, facilitated by websites that connect overwhelmed adoptive parents with strangers, was discovered by journalists. The Utah Attorney General’s Office has supported the effort to combat this form of human trafficking along with other members of the State Department committee, including the U.S. Department of Justice; the U.S. Department of Human Services, Children’s Bureau; and the administrators of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children. By passing this HB199, the Utah Legislature will close the legal loopholes that have allowed the practice of rehoming to flourish.

Representative Merrill Nelson’s bill, with the support of the Utah Attorney General’s Office, takes a largely non-punitive approach to the problem of rehoming. The bill assures that, before committing to the adoption, prospective adoptive parents get accurate information about the specific child’s history and training about the challenging kinds of behavior adopted children can exhibit. The new law would make clear that sending an adoptive child to live permanently with a stranger outside the legal system is prohibited. Further, Utah Child Protective Services would have the authority to investigate the living situation of a child who has been sent to live with strangers without a legal transfer of custody.

The bill language was developed in cooperation with the Utah Adoption Council, which also voted unanimously to support the bill.

“The Utah Adoption Council supports the efforts of the Attorney General to address the phenomenon of rehoming,” said Larry Jenkins, Standards and Practice Chair at the Utah Adoption Council. “Families with high needs children need to know what options are available to them, and this bill is a model for other states and a giant step forward towards helping these families.”

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Attorney General Sean Reyes, 20-State Coalition Urges Senate Confirmation of Judge Gorsuch to Supreme Court

SALT LAKE CITY February 2, 2017  — Attorney General Sean Reyes joined a 20-state coalition in urging Senate leaders to confirm the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The coalition expressed its support in a Wednesday afternoon letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley and Senate Judiciary Ranking Member Patrick Leahy.

The letter urges the Senate, including Senator Orrin Hatch and Senator Mike Lee, to confirm Judge Gorsuch without delay.

“I applaud President Trump’s decision to nominate Judge Neil Gorsuch, a committed textualist and fellow westerner, to the Supreme Court of the United States,” said Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes. “By any objective measure, Judge Gorsuch is a sterling, eminently qualified nominee in the mainstream of American jurists. His decade-long record on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals—where he was confirmed by a voice vote in the Senate—shows that if he is confirmed, Judge Gorsuch will bring to the nation’s highest Court a keen intellect, a vibrant pen, and a healthy respect for the judiciary’s proper role in our constitutional system. I urge the Senate to give Judge Gorsuch the up-or-down vote he deserves—and to confirm him as the next Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.”

President Trump, in nominating Judge Gorsuch, fulfilled a promise to nominate a jurist who shared the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s commitment to interpreting the Constitution as it was originally written.

The coalition believes Judge Gorsuch is particularly well-suited to enforce the Constitution’s limits on federal overreach and protect the role of individual states. Federal agencies have consistently overstepped the bounds of their authority under the Constitution, to the detriment of the states, during the past eight years.

Judge Gorsuch offers a positive change. He respects the role of state governments and has consistently defended the constitutional rights to freedom of speech, religion and the right to bear arms.

The Senate previously confirmed Judge Gorsuch with broad, bipartisan support to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The coalition’s letter finds no reason why a jurist of such immense qualifications should not receive prompt confirmation once again.

Those signing the letter were state attorneys general from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Read a full copy of the letter at http://bit.ly/2jDSp8j.

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McFarland Pleads Guilty to Two Counts of Aggravated Murder

Sentenced to life without parole

SANPETE COUNTY, Utah  January 25, 2017 – The Office of the Utah Attorney General and the Sanpete County Attorney’s Office today announced the guilty plea and sentence of Logan Welles McFarland for the two charges of aggravated murder in relation to the December 30, 2011, robbery and murder of Leroy and Dorotha Ann Fullwood in their Mt. Pleasant home.  McFarland pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree aggravated murder. For each count, Judge Marvin D. Bagley of the Sixth District Court sentenced McFarland to life without parole with the sentences to run consecutively.

“This is a great day for the victim’s family, the Sanpete community, and the state of Utah,” said Sanpete County Attorney Brody Keisel. “Justice was served.”

Late on the evening of December 29, 2011, McFarland was in Mt. Pleasant with a plan to commit robbery to get money for drugs.  He had already stolen items from one home in Mt. Pleasant the day before and decided to come back a second time. McFarland was dropped off, armed with a .22 magnum caliber gun, at a church parking lot near the Fullwood home.  Removing a screen, McFarland entered the house through an unlocked window leading to a bedroom inside the Fullwood residence.

Once inside, McFarland shot the Fullwoods multiple times, killing both. The morning after the robbery and murders, McFarland visited his brother at his trailer in Moroni where he told his brother he had “dispatched lives in Sanpete County” and that a “mission had gone south.”  McFarland also told his brother he was leaving the area and wanted to say goodbye.  McFarland fled to Nevada and was eventually apprehended and arrested in the Nevada desert.  

Prosecuted by the Sanpete County Attorney’s Office and Utah Attorney General’s Office, the prosecution included Sanpete County Attorney Brody Keisel and Deputy County Attorney Kevin Daniels; Utah Attorney General’s Office Division Director Greg  Ferbrache, Criminal Deputy Craig Barlow,  Special Prosecutions Director Janise Macanas, and Special Prosecutions Paralegal Rosie McDonough. The case was investigated in cooperation with multiple Sanpete jurisdictions, including the Sanpete Sheriff’s Office, and a special thanks are extended to Nevada for cooperation in the case.

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Texas Four Plead Guilty to Charges Relating to Theft of Dinosaur Bones

WAYNE COUNTY, Utah January 20, 2017 – The Office of the Utah Attorney General (OAG) and Wayne County Attorney’s Office (WCA) today announced the guilty pleas of four individuals to charges relating to tampering with and theft of dinosaur bones from Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in Wayne County, Utah in May 2015.   

“Utah’s archaeological and natural treasures contribute greatly to its beauty and allure and are an important part of what makes our state unique. This case demonstrates that anyone who illegally takes, tampers with, or disturbs our hidden treasures and natural resources will face criminal charges,” said Attorney General Sean Reyes.

“My thanks and congratulations to the entire investigation and prosecution team,  including Special Prosecutions Director Janise Macanas, Assistant Utah Attorney General Matthew Lloyd, and Paralegal Rosie McDonough of the (OAG) Justice Division’s Special Prosecutions Section, as well as Wayne County Attorney LeEllen McCartney.  The investigative team was spearheaded by (OAG) Investigation Division Special Agent Ronald Barton and BLM Agent Daniel Barnes. We are also grateful to the McLennan Community College for its cooperation.”

The individuals, all Texas residents, were in Utah as part of a geology expedition from McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas. Led by Philip Bukowski of Crawford, Texas, they entered Utah’s School and Institutional Trust Lands (SITLA) area, removed dinosaur bones and took them back to Texas. Additionally, the individuals were accused of damaging the area surrounding the dinosaur bones.  Bureau of Land Management agents made successful efforts to locate and seize the dinosaur bones.

Today, before the Honorable Judge Wallace A. Lee, in the Sixth Judicial District Court in Loa, Utah, Philip Bukowski entered a guilty plea to one count Third Degree Felony Theft, Paige Bukowski entered a guilty plea to one count Class A Misdemeanor Theft, and Travis York entered a guilty plea to one count Class A Misdemeanor Criminal Mischief.   The fourth defendant, Crystal Webster, entered an earlier plea to one count Class A Misdemeanor Theft.  All pleas are held in abeyance until the court’s conditions are met, including a restitution order in the amount of $6,417.84.

 

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AG Reyes Lauds District Court Injunction Halting Department of Labor’s Harmful Overtime Rule

SALT LAKE CITY November 23, 2016 – Late yesterday, a federal judge granted a nationwide preliminary injunction against the U.S. Department of Labor’s new Overtime Rule. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes joined the twenty-one state coalition that successfully challenged the rule. 

“This rule has been touted as worker friendly but is just the opposite.  Unfortunately, this kind of federal and bureaucratic overreach has been all too frequent under the current administration, which has allowed the Department of Labor to effectively rewrite the Fair Labor Standards Act,” said Attorney General Reyes. “In particular, the administration assumes that through force of will alone, it could order a new economic reality into existence. The finalized overtime rule harms local businesses, slows the economy, and hurts American workers. It limits workplace flexibility without a corresponding increase in pay, forcing employers to cut their workers hours. All in all, it exchanges the advantages of negotiated benefits, personal to each worker, with a one-size-fits-all standard that looks good only in press statements. We can do better than this for American workers.”

Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, employees are entitled to overtime pay at one-and-a-half times their regular hourly rate for all hours worked above forty per week.  But certain kinds of employees — including “white collar” employees — have long been exempt by statute from that overtime requirement. Under Department of Labor regulations, whether employees qualified as “white collar” employees turned in part on their salary, so the new Overtime Rule more than doubled the salary threshold at which employees would qualify for that exemption.  But the district court found that the new rule was unlawful because Congress intended the “white collar” exemption “to depend on an employee’s duties rather than an employee’s salary.”

In granting the injunction, U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant admonished: “the Final Rule . . . is contrary to the statutory text and Congress’s intent” and “Congress, and not the Department, should make that change.”

Because of the court’s injunction, the new rule will not take effect on December 1, 2016 anywhere in the nation.

The court’s preliminary injunction can be found here.

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Utah Supreme Court Upholds Esar Met Convictions and Part of Sentencing

SALT LAKE CITY November 22, 2016 –The Utah Supreme Court today affirmed the convictions and part of the sentence of Esar Met, who kidnapped, sexually abused, and brutally murdered 7-year-old Hser Ner Moo in 2008. 

“I congratulate Assistant Solicitor General John Nielsen on successfully representing Utah in this difficult case,” said Sean Reyes, Utah Attorney General. “One of the most important duties of our office is providing the best advocacy possible to make sure that justice is fairly and fully served. My thanks to all those who assisted John in briefing and arguing the appeal, including Solicitor General Tyler Green, Criminal Appeals Division Director Thomas Brunker, Search and Seizure Section Director Jeff Gray, and Assistant Solicitor General William Haines.”

Met was previously convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.  He raised more than a dozen claims on appeal, challenging the constitutionality of Utah’s non-capital aggravated murder sentencing statute on eight different grounds.  Met also claimed that police coerced his statements during his police interview, that police illegally searched his apartment, that the prosecution unlawfully used two pictures of the victim at trial, that the prosecution destroyed important evidence, and that his conviction for child kidnapping should merge into his conviction for aggravated murder.  The Utah Supreme Court rejected each of these claims. 

Met was sentenced to two concurrent terms of life without the possibility of parole, but the Utah Supreme Court held that the trial judge misapplied the law to Met’s aggravated murder conviction by presuming that life without parole was the appropriate starting sentence.  The court sent the case down for the trial court to determine if this presumption affected its decision on the aggravated murder count, but affirmed the imposition of life without parole on the child kidnapping count.

Assistant Solicitor General John Nielsen represented the State on appeal, briefing and arguing the case.  Solicitor General Tyler Green, Criminal Appeals Division Director Thomas Brunker, Search and Seizure Section Director Jeff Gray, and Assistant Solicitor General William Haines helped develop and refine the State’s arguments.

A copy of the ruling can be found here.

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Thomas Edward Egley Convicted and Sentenced Today for the Murder of Loretta Jones in 1970

Price, Utah  November 22, 2016 – In cooperation with the Carbon County Attorney’s Office, the Utah Attorney General’s Office announces the conviction of Thomas Edward Egley for the murder of Loretta Jones on or about July 30, 1970. In 2009, Sergeant David Brewer with the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office reopened the case at the request of family members of the victim. Sergeant Brewer’s investigation led to Egley’s confession to stabbing Jones and slashing her throat for refusing his sexual advances, leaving her to be discovered by her 4-year-old daughter Heidi Jones-Asay, the next morning. Egley was sentenced to prison for a term of 10 years to life.

“We’re grateful that Sergeant Brewer was willing to reopen the case and for the excellent work by the Carbon County investigators to solve this 46-year-old murder,” said Attorney General Sean Reyes. “After a lifetime of uncertainty, I am hopeful that this conviction and sentence to prison brings some measure of closure to those who have suffered the most from her loss.”

Carbon County Attorney Gene Strate remarked, “The community of Carbon County has been seeking justice for Loretta’s brutal murder for a very long time, particularly the victim’s daughter who was four years old when she discovered her mother’s body. The defendant’s prison sentence brings solace in knowing Loretta Jones’s family will have the justice they so rightfully deserve. Sergeant Brewer and Detective Hendricks from the Carbon County Sheriff’s office should be commended for their efforts.”

“I always knew the name and face of the man who killed my mom, I always knew it was Tom,” said Heidi Jones-Asay. “I knew one day I would see Tom again.” 

“This was a heinous and brutal murder, and 46 years should not mitigate a recommendation of prison,” said Assistant Attorney General Gregory Ferbrache.

The conviction is the culmination of nearly seven years of dedicated investigation on the cold case by Carbon County investigators, nearly 46 years after the events occurred.  The prosecution team consisted of Carbon County Attorney Gene Strate, Deputy County Attorney Jeremy Humes, Assistant Attorney’s General Gregory Ferbrache, Shelley Coudreaut and Russell Smith.

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Attorney General Sean Reyes Honored by Boy Scouts of America with National Award

SALT LAKE CITY November 21, 2016—The Utah Attorney General’s Office today announced Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes received anational award last week from the Greater Salt Lake Council of Boy Scouts of America for outstanding service to the community, with an emphasis on his volunteer service in the Hispanic community.

Attorney General Reyes expressed his appreciation to the Council at the Silver Anniversary Holiday Gala.

“It is such an honor to receive this recognition from Boy Scouts of America, an organization that has enriched my life and my family far more than I could ever repay,” said Attorney General Reyes. “Scouting teaches lifelong principles of service, community, and adventure. The Boy Scout slogan to ‘do a good turn daily’ guides me as I serve each day, and I am grateful that BSA has taught my own sons to follow the same path.”

“Attorney General Reyes is the epitome of what Scouting is all about,” said Scout Executive Mark Griffin. “Sean’s service to youth in the Latino/Hispanic community through Scouting and many other venues is noteworthy. We are proud to recognize him with this national award.”

boy_scouts_of_america_corporate_trademark-svgAttorney General Reyes is an Eagle Scout who has been active in leadership roles in Scouting throughout his life. He achieved the rank of Eagle at age 15, has been a Scout leader at various levels of Scouting, chaired a Scout unit and organized and presented at various Scouting events. His two older sons are EagleScouts and he has three younger sons who are working toward that goal. AG Reyes’s father was active in Scouting as a boy in his home country of the Philippines, remained an active Scouter in his adopted country of America and instilled in his sons, both Eagle Scouts, a love of Scouting and its principles of service.

Even prior to his current position as AG, Reyes was recognized locally and nationally with numerous awards and distinctions for his years of commitment to service and lifting communities throughout Utah and the United States.

Reyes co-Founded the Somos Foundation providing millions of dollars in student aid and scholarships to Utah Latino high school and college students. He provided internships to many Latino students and led an English language learning program that lifted tens of thousands of immigrants by giving them tools for better jobs and opportunities. In working to fight against teen drinking and driving, human trafficking, child sexual abuse and teen suicide, Reyes has protected all teens and also done special media promotions and interviews for the Hispanic community. Reyes served on the Presidential and Congressional Commission to create a National Museum of the American Latino on the National Mall.

Reyes also volunteered at colleges, high schools, elementary schools and juvenile detention facilities as well as homeless shelters, elder care facilities, churches, and veterans homes. He raised money for scholarships for students from underserved and refugee communities, offered free legal services to veterans, seniors, and others in need, raised money for families of fallen law enforcement officers and provided resources to fight child Pornography. He was a pioneer in creating opportunities for Hispanic and Asian small businesses. He founded and helped lead numerous non-profits creating a host of service initiatives.

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Alan Dean McKee Pleads Guilty In Connection With Scam Impersonating LDS Church Officials

SALT LAKE CITY October 18, 2016 – The Utah Attorney General’s Mortgage and Fraud Unit announced today that Alan McKee of Benjamin has pleaded guilty to one count of a Pattern of Unlawful Activity and one count of Theft, all Second Degree Felonies. A separate case against Gary Anderson of Springville is ongoing.

According to charging documents, Anderson and McKee were previously accused of defrauding Ames Construction and two individuals out of approximately $1.2 million between July 2013 and October 2015. McKee is alleged to have sent letters to Ames Construction purporting to come from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“LDS Church”) in connection with the construction of a building site in Elberta, Utah. Anderson is alleged to have assisted by making at least one phone call posing as an LDS Church official to an Ames Construction employee. McKee and Anderson were also alleged to have induced two victims to invest in a scheme to purchase excess farm equipment.

“Stopping white collar crime has always been one of my highest priorities for the Utah Attorney General’s Office,” said Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes. “Our investigators, paralegals, attorneys and staff work tirelessly to stop scams and shut down fraudsters.

“I appreciate the hard work by Che Arguello, Assistant Attorney General and Division Director of White Collar and Commercial Enforcement, and Brian Williams, Mortgage and Financial Fraud Unit Section Director, and their team for their hard work to build this case.”

The investigation was assisted by Tyson Downey from the Investigations Division and Richard Hales from the Utah County Attorney’s Office Investigations Division.

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