OGDEN — The state has asked the family of a man charged with killing a police officer to stop raising money for his defense fund because the proper permits weren't obtained.
However, the Utah Department of Commerce's Division of Consumer Protection says once the permits are obtained, the family may go back to soliciting donations.
Matthew Stewart's family had set up a website, www.helpmatthewstewart.org, in an effort to raise $70,000 that they feel is needed to mount a proper defense.
But when the website was brought to the attention of the Division of Consumer Protection, the state checked its records and found that the effort had not received the required approval.
"It is our understanding that your organization may be subject to the registration requirements of the Charitable Solicitations Act, Title 13 Chapter 22 of the Utah Code. This law requires a permit before you solicit, request, promote, advertise, or sponsor a solicitation of any contribution in Utah for a charitable purpose," states a Feb. 17 letter that was sent to Michael Stewart, Matthew Stewart's father.
Stewart, 37, is accused of shooting six police officers, killing one of them, as they attempted to serve a search warrant on his Ogden home Jan. 4. He was charged in 2nd District Court with aggravated murder, a capital offense; seven counts of attempted aggravated murder, a first-degree felony; and production of a controlled substance, a second-degree felony. Prosecutors also filed a dangerous weapon penalty enhancement charge and have said they intend to seek the death penalty.
"This is a complex case that deserves a fair, unbiased review of all evidence. So far, only one side has been given an opportunity to look at anything collected from that horrible night in January," Stewart's website states.
The website features various sections, including one titled "Remembering Jared Francom," the Ogden officer who was killed.
Division of Consumer Protection Director Traci Gundersen said the Stewarts are not being singled out or treated differently than anyone else because their fundraising effort might be seen as controversial or unpopular by some.
"It doesn't make any difference. It can be the most sympathetic request in the world. We don't make a judgment call on what the purpose is or how worthy it is," she said.
Gundersen believed the Stewart family is already in the process of working with the state to re-start its soliciting campaign.
Because the Division of Consumer Protection is a complaint-driven agency, Gundersen said her office investigates inquiries as they are submitted by the public.
The goal, she said, is to prevent the public from being scammed by people claiming to be soliciting funds for either Ogden police officer Jared Francom and the other wounded officers, or Stewart.
"Our purpose is to protect the public," she said. "It helps provide some transparency to the public so they can give wisely. We want to make sure the money is going where you think it is."
As for donations being collected for Francom, a group that was already in existence helped set up a solicitation effort. It's a group that has helped set up accounts for other fallen officers and is already on file with the Division of Consumer Protection, Gundersen said.
"Whenever there is a fallen officer, they step in immediately and then they donate going through a regulated channel," she said. "They're very on the ball."
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