BYU law school grad, fake war hero charged with stealing from Paiute Indians
SALT LAKE CITY — A BYU law school graduate who passed himself off as a decorated war veteran and licensed military attorney faces more than two dozen federal charges, including allegedly stealing thousands of dollars from the Paiute Indian Tribe.
Jeffrey Charles Zander, 55, of Cedar City, is charged in an indictment with 26 counts of theft from a program receiving federal funds, money laundering, and failure to file tax returns. He was arrested in Nebraska last week following an FBI and IRS investigation.
He is accused of depositing at least $176,000 into his personal bank account.
Zander pleaded not guilty to the charges Thursday in U.S. District Court and was appointed a public defender. The U.S. Attorneys Office is not seeking detention, but he is being held in custody on a warrant from 5th District Court in Cedar City where he is wanted on multiple burglary and forgery charges. One burglary stems from a break-in at the Paiute headquarters.
A jury trial is set for March 21.
Zander began working as a planner for the Paiute Tribe in October 1998, according to the indictment. He later became the tribe's economic development director and trust resources director. In September 2007, he also became its in-house general counsel.
A 1987 BYU law school graduate, Zander worked as a judge advocate general in the U.S. Marines Corps with the rank of captain in the late '80s and early '90s. He ranked first in his JAG training class and gained a good reputation as a prosecutor and especially as defense attorney stationed in Hawaii and Okinawa, Japan.
In 1994, military officials learned that Zander never took the bar exam. He faked paperwork to gain admission to the California Bar Association by stealing the identity of a California bar member named James Zander, according to a 1995 ABA Journal article.
Zander also faked his military history, making it appear as if he had served in Vietnam as a Navy boatswain's mate during the evacuation of Saigon. Though he served in the Marines from 1976 to 1983, he was never in the Navy. He also falsely claimed to have received medals of valor including the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, according to a 1994 Chicago Tribune article.
It's unclear how the fraud came to light, but according to the story it may have surfaced during an investigation into a falsified court record in Hawaii.
A court-martial landed him in military prison for four months. He was prohibited from performing any legal function under the Judge Advocate General in 1996, documents show.
As economic development and trust resources director for the Paiute Tribe, Zander obtained federal grants to fund resource management plans.
According to the indictment, he created five fictitious companies to bill the tribe for services not performed or services for which he had already been paid. He then allegedly diverted checks issued to the bogus companies totaling $176,000 into personal bank accounts.
The indictment also alleges Zander failed to pay income tax in 2005, 2006 and 2007 on wages totaling nearly $350,000.
Gayle Rollo, Paiute tribal administrator, declined to comment on the case.
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