SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A former Utah lawmaker was sentenced to probation Monday for taking campaign cash from the mayor of Salt Lake County, but prosecutors say they’re investigating allegations of more missing money.
Democrat Justin Miller said he deeply regrets pocketing about $24,000 when he was the county mayor’s campaign manager and paid back the money as part of a deal with prosecutors.
But Mayor Ben McAdams, also a Democrat, says a new accounting found a total of $50,000 disappeared during Miller’s tenure.
“Justin stole, not only from Ben, but by stealing from campaign donations, he effectively stole from friends and neighbors,” said Julie McAdams, the mayor’s wife, who spoke at his sentencing.
Prosecutor Steven Major said his office is investigating the new allegations and could file new charges.
Miller’s lawyer denied the allegations, saying that while there may have been misunderstandings in the accounting, there was no other criminal wrongdoing.
“It appears that they’re saying, ‘Well, Justin agreed to wrongdoing in this one case, let’s see what else we can pile on,’” said attorney Steven Shapiro.
Julie McAdams asked the judge to send Miller to jail. Judge Randall Skanchy abided by the terms of the plea deal and gave Miller 18 months’ probation, though he also added 250 hours of community service.
The case became public last summer, when Ben McAdams released a recording of himself confronting his one-time employee about the missing money. Miller shot back by saying he was being retaliated against for raising red flags about the office’s relationship with a well-connected political consulting group.
Several months later, Miller, 35, pleaded guilty to a felony communications fraud charge in a hearing quietly scheduled the same day the charges were filed.
He acknowledged that he wrote himself a check for $24,388 to cover estimated catering charges for an event in April 2014 because had planned to pay with his personal credit card to earn reward points, something his lawyer said was a common practice in the campaign.
When he found out the caterer couldn’t accept his card, Miller wrote another check from the campaign fund, but never repaid the first advance, according to charging documents.
He was elected to represent the Millcreek area of Salt Lake City in the Utah House of Representatives before the allegations became public, and served for less than year. He resigned the same day as he pleaded guilty in October.
Miller said then he was cooperating with an FBI investigation into McAdam’s office, but that probe was closed the following month without finding any evidence of wrongdoing on the county mayor’s part.
Julie McAdams decried Miller’s allegations, and said they made her re-consider whether her husband’s office was worth the burden on their family.
“How ironic is that Justin would seek to be the victim here?” she said.
Miller declined to comment Monday on the now-closed FBI investigation.
The fraud case wasn’t his only brush with the law: About 10 years ago, he was arrested at the Salt Lake Bees’ minor league baseball stadium on suspicion of trying to shoplift a jersey from the gift shop. Miller said he accidently forgot to pay, and the misdemeanor theft charge in that case was dismissed in exchange for community service with the Salt Lake County Democratic Party.
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