SALT LAKE CITY — A BYU law school graduate was convicted Tuesday of stealing thousands of dollars from the Paiute Indian Tribe.
Jeffrey Charles Zander, 57, was convicted of two counts of mail fraud, two counts of wire fraud, money laundering and three counts of willful failure to file tax returns by a jury in U.S. District Court. The jury's decision came after a week-long trial.
The man apparently swindled the tribe out of more than $176,000 and failed to file tax returns between 2005 and 2008.
Zander began working as a planner for the Paiute Tribe in October 1998 and later became the tribe's economic development director and trust resources director, according to court documents. In September 2007, Zander also became its in-house general counsel, though he did not have a license to practice law.
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 a 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 allegedly 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.
As economic development and trust resources director for the Paiute Tribe, Zander obtained federal grants to fund resource management plans. According to court documents, Zander said he hired companies in Salt Lake City, Provo and Las Vegas to act as consultants or facilitators in these plans.
The man apparently offered to hand-deliver payments to these companies. Court documents state that the companies were bogus, created by Zander 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. Prosecutors are asking that Zander be ordered to repay the 176,698 he stole as part of his sentence.
According to court documents, Zander also failed to file tax returns from 2005 to 2008.
Sentencing has been set for July 31. Zander faces a potential maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for each count of mail and wire fraud, the possibility of 10 years for money laundering and up to one year for each count of failing to file a tax return.