Former UTOPIA executive intends to sue West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder over story

Published: Friday, Nov. 18 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Mike Winder, mayor of West Valley City, poses outside his office in West Valley Tuesday, November 8, 2011.

Brian Nicholson

Enlarge photo»

SALT LAKE CITY — The attorney for a former UTOPIA executive has informed the municipal fiber-optic network and West Valley City of his intent to file a defamation lawsuit against them over a news story Mayor Mike Winder wrote under a fake name.

Attorney Steve S. Christensen said an article written by Winder under the pen name Richard Burwash and published on KSL.com on May 1 contains inaccurate statements about his client, Chris Hogan, and that Hogan "has suffered harm because of them."

Hogan also alleges that UTOPIA, West Valley City and Winder conspired to make public a series of sealed court documents in an effort to damage Hogan's reputation.

Winder also will be named in the lawsuit, Christensen said. Because UTOPIA and West Valley City are public entities, they have 90 days to refute the claims before they're filed with the court.

Dave Shaw, general counsel for UTOPIA, called the allegations "patently false." Winder declined to comment Thursday on the pending legal action.

Last week, Winder admitted to Deseret News editors that he created a false identity to write news stories about West Valley City through Deseret Connect, a freelance contributor network through which stories are submitted to its media partners.

The mayor previously pretended to be Burwash to get stories published in the Oquirrh Times, a weekly newspaper covering West Valley, Magna and Kearns. The Salt Lake Tribune also published a photograph credited to Burwash.

Since admitting to the deception, Winder has resigned his position as director of public affairs for The Summit Group, a Salt Lake City-based marketing and communications firm.

On Wednesday, the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency put its professional relationship with The Summit Group "on hiatus" as a result of the Winder/Burwash incident.

The May 1 story was one of four Burwash articles published through Deseret Connect. In it, Winder — as Burwash — wrote that Hogan was being accused of extortion, citing court documents the author claimed were unsealed on April 27.

Court records show that the documents remained sealed until May 16, more than two weeks after Burwash submitted the article through Deseret Connect. That raised questions among defense attorneys about how Burwash obtained his information.

Jacob Hancock, an editor for Deseret Connect, said he was contacted by a private investigator looking for Burwash about a week after the UTOPIA story was posted on KSL.com.

Hancock said that was about the same time Burwash informed him via email he was moving to London and wouldn't be able to continue writing for Deseret Connect — at least for the near future.

Winder says he wasn't aware that attorneys were trying to locate Burwash when he made up the story about the freelance writer moving to London.

Winder later said the reason he shipped off Burwash and stopped using the pen name was that he learned from Deseret Media Companies President and CEO Mark Willes that the company didn't approve of the practice.

Still, Burwash's Deseret Connect account was active until at least June 5, when he informed editors he hoped to "resume some sort of coverage of the various local (political) campaigns in the fall."

Two days later, Winder was among those subpoenaed by the defense in connection with the lawsuit in 3rd District Court. Christensen said a subpoena also was sent out on Burwash, "but that was a dead end. We couldn't find him."

Christensen said he didn't know Burwash was actually Winder until the mayor went public with the news last week.

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere