FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — A Mohave County judge has agreed to allow two attorneys to stop representing a pair of former Colorado City fire officials accused of misusing public funds, leaving taxpayers on the hook for legal defense costs.
William Darger and Jacob Barlow have pleaded not guilty to charges of violating the duty of a custodian of public money, and participating in and assisting in a criminal syndicate.
Barlow, the former fire chief, faces 30 counts. Darger, who served as the fire district's secretary and treasurer, faces 13.
Attorneys Colin Campbell and Michael Piccarreta argued during a hearing Tuesday that the men are indigent and entitled to court-appointed counsel. Piccarreta said the Fundamentalist LDS Church had picked up some of the tab for legal expenses but those costs are expected to exceed $100,000 for each man if he and Campbell were to continue with the case.
Superior Court Judge Steven Conn granted the request for the attorneys to withdraw following the hearing and said he would address the reassignment of counsel in a written order.
Deputy Mohave County Attorney James Schoppman said he did not object to the defense request. He and Piccarreta said Conn likely wants to elaborate on how the public defender's office could avoid conflicts of interest in taking over the case, which could be done with attorneys contracted with that office.
Piccarreta has called the indictment handed down against Darger and Barlow a year ago "frivolous."
"I do think if they are going to bring a ridiculous case, that Mohave County should be responsible for paying both sides of that," he said Tuesday.
Mohave County began its investigation into the Colorado City Fire District in January 2008 after a St. George, Utah, restaurant manager said he believed Barlow used a fire department credit card to buy dinner for his wife.
Court papers show officials deemed questionable some other purchases, including a trip to Lava Hot Springs in Idaho, restaurant meals, a clock/radio docking station for an iPod, clothing and furniture such as a computer workstation, an armoire and a pair of leather sofas.
Prosecutors also contended tax money to fund the fire district was inappropriately withdrawn from one bank account by Darger and Barlow and transferred into different accounts.
The fire district covers a 225-square-mile area along the Utah-Arizona border and serves Hildale through an inter-local agreement. Colorado City and Hildale are dominated by followers of Warren Jeffs, the convicted child sex offender and FLDS Church leader.