Victims of violent crime in Utah are $342,000 richer today.

Friday afternoon, U.S. Attorney for Utah Dee Benson gave Gov. Norm Bangerter a check for $342,000, the federal government's contribution this year to the state's Victim Reparation Fund.The fund is fed by surcharges on fines levied against convicted violent criminals - both in federal and state courts. The federal contribution isn't based on violent crime fines in Utah, said Benson. Rather, the $342,000 is 40 percent of the state's violent crime reparation collections.

"Increasingly, we're taking an active role in helping the victims of crimes," said Benson. "In the criminal system and the courts we're always so concerned with the liberties and rights of the accused. These payments to victims say we're concerned also with the constitutional rights of those who certainly didn't seek the circumstances they find themselves in."

Bangerter said the 1986 Legislature, at his request, placed a 25 percent surcharge on all criminal fines and set up the Crime Victim Reparation Fund.

Congress placed a $50 surcharge on each criminal count a person is found guilty of in federal court, and that money goes into a national victim reparation fund that is parceled out to states that also have such programs.

The first year of Utah's program, only 55 claims were processed and $55,000 allocated to victims of violent crime.

But the program has grown considerably since then. In fiscal 1989-90, 1,543 claims were processed and $2.4 million given out.

The money goes to actual, out-of-pocket expenses caused victims by those who attacked them. It could pay for psychological counseling, medical costs or lost wages. None of the money goes to insurance companies of victims, but only to the victims themselves.

The state fund currently has a $3.5 million surplus, which has been building over the years because more money came in than was applied for by crime victims. This year, for the first time, all money collected will be paid out to victims, officials predicted.