SALT LAKE CITY — Former BYU and NFL football player Reno Mahe insists he did nothing illegal when he repeatedly filled up his car with gasoline from a construction company without paying.
But he realizes it wasn't his best decision.
"Everyone makes mistakes, but at the same time, did I do anything illegal? No, man," Mahe said after Monday's court hearing. "I would never plead guilty to this. ... That would be a lie."
Instead, Mahe, 32, pleaded no contest to theft, a third-degree felony, before 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg. The judge said she will hold the plea for 18 months, when it will be dismissed if Mahe has no additional violations of the law and pays the money he owes.
A no-contest plea means that the individual does not admit guilt to the charges but is not willing to fight them through legal proceedings. For sentencing purposes, a no-contest plea is treated the same as a guilty plea.
Lindberg ordered Mahe to pay $2,973 in restitution to A-Core Concrete Cutting and a $500 abeyance fee. Defense attorney Rudy Bautista said the plea means that they concede prosecutors could prove that Mahe took gasoline from Mark Evers, 32, who was working for the construction company, and that Evers was not authorized to take the gasoline.
Mahe and three other men were charged with stealing more than $6,000 in gasoline from A-Core Concrete Cutting between August and October of 2010.
Evers testified that he began stealing gas from his employer in 2006 using a code he created for the company that maintained fuel pumps.
Evers' alleged theft was discovered in October 2010, leading to a review of surveillance tapes dating back to August 2010 that helped police identify Mahe, Tevita Ofahengaue, 38, Michael Andrus, 36, and Fred Prescott, 36.
Evers testified that he told Mahe, a high school friend, that he received free gas as part of his employment package and offered to share with Mahe. All of the defendants have stated that Evers told them the gas was free, but Evers said he made them aware that it wasn't.
Had the case gone to trial, Bautista said he had evidence that Evers was inconsistent on whether he clarified to Mahe and the others that the gas was not part of an employment package. He also said there were as many as 19 potential witnesses willing to testify that Evers "was offering gas to everyone."
"The logical decision is to resolve the case," Bautista said. "(Mahe) has a spotless record. From the beginning, he said he was under the impression the gas was given. There was no question he would pay it back. This is a decision that makes sense."
Mahe said the plea allowed him to "put it on me" instead of in the hands of potential jurors. As for Evers, Mahe said he forgave the man as part of his efforts to move forward.
"Honestly, the only way I could move on and have a good attitude about it was to forgive him," Mahe said. "He has to live with the choices he made."
Mahe has said he always intended to pay back the money and even asked the judge if he can pay what he owes in restitution before the allotted time expires. But he had something to say to those who think he should have been smarter than to have accepted the gas in the first place.
"They don't know my life and the free things people offer us," he said. "It's ridiculous."
Evers ultimately pleaded guilty to theft, a third-degree felony, and was sentenced to zero to five years in prison, but the prison time was suspended. He was ordered to spend 36 months on probation, pay $55,603 in restitution and complete 75 hours of community service in the next six months.
Prescott entered a guilty plea in abeyance to one count of theft, a class B misdemeanor, after originally being charged with a third-degree felony. If Prescott performs 40 hours community service, pays a $500 fee and $612 in restitution and has no violations in the course of a year, the charge will be dismissed.
Ofahengaue received a similar plea deal as he entered a guilty plea in abeyance to a third-degree felony charge, reduced from the original second-degree felony charge, and was ordered to pay a $850 in fees and $1,590 in restitution.
Andrus pleaded no contest to theft, a third-degree felony. He was ordered to pay $3,390 in restitution and a $500 abeyance fee. He will also have the opportunity to see the charge dismissed after 18 months if he pays what is owed and avoids any violations of law.
Mahe quipped that all of this has taught him to avoid trusting anyone for at least 18 months, before clarifying: "At the end of the day, I'm still going to trust people ... just try to be smarter about it."