The top 10 ethical meltdowns in Utah

By Mike Whitmer

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, June 5 2011 9:00 a.m. MDT

Mark Hofmann forgeries — Beginning in 1980, Mark Hofmann claimed to have found multiple documents purported to be from the early days of LDS Church history.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

The recent conviction of insider trader Raj Rajaratnam highlights the casual way some people in the world practice ethical behavior. Several Utahns have earned the moniker “Ethically Challenged” because of business and personal practices.

Utah has had several high profile lapses in proper behavior, resulting in pain and loss for the innocent and the guilty. The following are the top 10 ethical meltdowns in Utah, ranked in order of seriousness of the lapse and resulting problems.

Beginning in 1980, Mark Hofmann laid claims to discovering multiple documents that purported to be from the early days of LDS Church history. His first “find” was the Anthon Transcript, which was soon followed by the Joseph Smith III Blessing, the Salamander Letter and various other documents. Hofmann’s coup de grace was the M’Lellin papers which were to be sold to private buyers and then donated to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Unfortunately, the papers and other artifacts either did not exist or were excellent forgeries made in Hofmann’s basement and which fooled the best examiners of the time. As things spiraled down, Hofmann resorted to murder in an attempt to prevent discovery of his plotting. Kathleen Sheets and Steven Christensen paid the price for Hofmann’s dive into unethical behavior with their lives. Others, like Gary Sheets and Mac Christensen, were left to pick up the pieces and try to make sense of the events.

After multiple attempts – beginning in 1932 – to bring the Winter Olympic Games to Salt Lake City, organizing committee members determined a change in strategy was needed. Following the example of other successful cities, the leaders of the Salt Lake City Olympic movement loosened the purse strings in an effort to procure the votes needed to be named the host for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. International Olympic Committee members were given ski and Super Bowl trips, scholarships, jobs and possibly even cash incentives to entice them to choose Salt Lake City in the next vote. When Salt Lake City was named the host of the 2002 Winter Games, 50,000 people gathered at City Hall to celebrate. For some, the joy was short-lived as an investigation was opened into the bidding process and the methods used to secure votes. Two members of the SLOC were charged with multiple counts of bribery and fraud but were eventually acquitted on all charges. Although no legal penalties were enforced, the International Olympic Committee changed several rules and replaced some members because of the scandal.

Stanley Pons, who was a professor at the University of Utah, and Martin Fleischmann shocked the world in 1989 when they announced they had successfully created cold fusion. The fanfare and anticipation accompanying the announcement brought great renown to Pons and Fleischmann and to put the University of Utah on the map as a legitimate research facility. The UofU even asked Congress for $25 million in research funds to pursue the possibilities of this new form of energy. When other researchers tried to duplicate the results reported by Pons and Fleischmann, they discovered they could not generate anything close to the reported levels of energy. Almost as quickly as it blossomed, the “great white hope” of cold fusion was derailed and became the laughingstock of the scientific world. The reputations of both researchers were reduced to jokes on late-night television despite their continued efforts to prove their work viable. Improper techniques in research led to the downfall of two respected scientists, a black mark against the University of Utah and the devaluing of a once hopeful source of power.

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