Price police, FBI investigating alleged grazing lease scam
Geoff Liesik, Deseret News
PRICE — A California businessman with Utah ties is facing felony charges after Price police say they were tipped off to an alleged scam that targets livestock owners.
Kelly John Garrett, of Menifee, Calif., appeared Monday in 7th District Court for a bail hearing. He asked Judge George Harmond to release him on his own recognizance for the sake of his business.
"This month, October, is a pretty profitable month for us," said Garrett, who is not represented by an attorney.
"But because I'm in jail, we're experiencing pretty heavy losses," he said.
Price Police Sgt. Robb Radley, however, says he can prove that Garrett is running a scam, not a business, and that he preyed on at least two people looking for winter range in southern Utah for their cattle.
"They leased the land to run cattle on, and then they came to find out that (Garrett) did not have the right or the access to that lease and that they had been defrauded," Radley said.
One Carbon County rancher discovered the alleged deceit when she attempted to turn a truckload of registered cattle loose on pasture land in Wayne County and the property owner showed up to inform her that her lease was bogus, the sergeant said.
"The land was already leased, and it couldn't support the (new) herd," Radley said.
Investigators say Garrett would draw people to his Nature's Hay website by advertising it on KSL.com. His site appears to be legitimate at first glance, as do the contracts that demand payment upfront, Radley said.
But Garrett was using the site to sell more hay than he could produce, and the land he offered for lease belongs to a relative, the sergeant said.
"(Garrett) has been given notification that he's not to continue to lease this property," Radley said. "That's based on him misrepresenting himself to people."
State court records show that may not be uncommon for Garrett.
In 2006, prosecutors in Wayne County charged him with 13 counts of communications fraud, all second-degree felonies.
In that case, an Arizona couple filed an affidavit claiming that Garrett convinced them to give him their California home — and the $100,000 in equity they had in the home. In exchange, they received a deed for a lot in a Torrey, Wayne County, subdivision.
The couple later found out the Torrey Ridge Estates subdivision had never received county approval, according to court records. Wayne County Recorder Colleen Rees confirmed Monday that it still hasn't been approved.
In court Monday, Garrett told the judge he moved to California in 2000 and didn't know he was facing charges in Wayne County until two years after they'd been filed.
"On my own voluntary volition, I came back here six weeks ago and met with the county attorney in Wayne County," he said, noting that he was allowed to leave the meeting without being arrested.
When word spread though that Garrett would be back in Utah at the beginning of October, officers were waiting.
"I thank the Garfield County sheriff, who took the initiative himself to make contact with (Garrett) and take him into custody," Radley said.
Garrett, 50, was arrested on a warrant that had been issued in the Wayne County case, then transported to Carbon County, where he is charged with four counts of communications fraud and theft by deception, all second-degree felonies.
The number of charges is expected to grow, according to Radley.
"I've discovered there are other victims involved," the sergeant said. "They reside out of state."
That could lead to federal charges as well, based on alleged misconduct tied not only to the Nature's Hay website, but also to Garrett's production company, GET Entertainment Inc., Radley said.
"I won't speak for the FBI," he said, "but they're involved and they have an open case."
The sergeant said anyone who suspects they've been defrauded by Garrett should call the Price Police Department at 435-636-3190 or their local FBI office.
Garrett's request for a bail reduction or a release on his own recognizance was denied Monday. He remains in the Carbon County Jail, where he's being held in lieu of $100,000 bail.
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