A former University of Utah official has been charged with 12 felony counts that include theft, bribery and computer fraud in connection with an alleged scheme that substantially inflated rates the university paid for long-distance telephone service.
Stephen A. Merrill, 39, was charged in documents filed in 3rd Circuit Court Friday. The charges include six second-degree felony theft charges, four second-degree felony computer fraud charges, one third-degree felony bribery charge and one second-degree felony charge of unlawful dealing with governmental property.Salt Lake Deputy County Attorney Bud Ellett said the charges follow six months of investigation by the University of Utah Police and the county attorney's office. Merrill, former director of the U.'s telecommunications department, was fired from his job as a result of the investigation, officials confirmed in February.
According to a probable cause statement, in June 1986 Merrill contracted with ZCMI Telecommunications Department for the U.'s use of some of their long-distance trunk lines. ZCMI agreed to charge the university 3 cents per minute. At the same time, Merrill's company, Z-Net, began providing service to the U. over the ZCMI lines at 10 cents a minute.
"The defendant authorized the payment of those bills by university funds without disclosing that he was Z-Net or that he had negotiated the service at 3 cents per minute," court records say.
Investigation of University of Utah Credit Union rec-ords showed that soon after every deposit of a check from the university into the Z-Net account, Merrill wrote checks to himself, documents say.
Z-Net was never registered or licensed and used a local post office box as its address, said Ellett.
Also in December 1986, Merrill agreed to help Intermountain Telephone Corp., operated by Steve Olson, maintain a contract with the U. to provide telephone switching and billing services to the university. In return Merrill was to receive half of the gross operating profit resulting from the contract, court records say.
Between January and May 1987, Merrill, through Z-Net, switched the university onto its own expanded long-distance trunk lines. At the same time, Merrill gave Olson's company access to a telephone system computer. Other companies, including Liberty Square Apartments in Provo and Pacific West Consumer Cooperative, operated by Gary Jensen, were given access to the telephone system computer.
"The records of Z-Net account show in each instance where Z-Net or the defendant was paid, the money was immediately taken out to the benefit of the defendant," court records say.
In February investigators said that between 2,500 and 3,000 of the university's phone lines were illegally leased. Between $250,000 and $500,000 was lost in the alleged fraud.
University Police Capt. Dan Walters said Friday the investigation uncovered "miles of paper" and utilized sophisticated computer tracking methods.