AMERICAN FORK Former Eagle Mountain Mayor Brian Olsen was careless, but not purposely trying to defraud the city, according to jurors who returned a not guilty verdict Thursday afternoon.
"It's all about reasonable doubt, about his intentions," said jury forewoman Nancy Salanoa. "I thought he was reckless ... "
"But not legally, criminally reckless," another female juror added and Salanoa agreed. "The legal definition of words was very important."
Members of the eight-member jury said they had a good discussion, even heated at times, for just over two hours before they decided that Olsen was not guilty of seven third-degree felony charges of misuse of public funds for pocketing reimbursements for trips he didn't take.
"The system does work and Eagle Mountain is still a good place," Olsen said after the verdict. "I wish those folks good luck, that things can work out there as well. I have no hard feelings and I'm moving on."
After the verdict was read, jurors said they realized mistakes had been made, but said they couldn't find beyond a reasonable doubt that Olsen had acted knowingly, intentionally or recklessly to take city money.
"We just felt like he was careless, and not trying to do Eagle Mountain city harm," said jury member Shari who wouldn't disclose her last name.
In fact, some jurors even thought that the city should carry some of the blame.
"Eagle Mountain city is the one that needs to fix their whole infrastructure," Salanoa said. "They did things wrong."
The city's policy was weak, defense attorney Ron Yengich acknowledged in his closing arguments. There was confusion over how reimbursements were to be requested, who was supposed to sign the sheets and how overpayments would be handled.
Despite those errors, prosecutor Chad Grunander said he believed Olsen still should have known it was wrong to accept money for trips he didn't take.
While disappointed with the verdict, Grunander acknowledged the burden was high and said the jury got hung up on the intentional/knowing/reckless language as well as the amount of money taken around $1,500 total, with $400 that was never returned.
The Utah legislature has stated that public officials who steal public money can be charged with felonies, regardless of the amount taken, Grunander said.
Prosecutors were also disappointed that they were prohibited by the judge from telling the jury that Olsen had previously lied about having a master's degree.
As a Utah Highway Patrol trooper and during his campaign for city council and mayor, Olsen told people he had a master's degree in public administration. In reality, he had a public manager's certificate, which he felt was comparable training.
During closing arguments, Yengich told the jury that his client had simply made a string of mistakes.
"A famous person once said, 'An error doesn't become a mistake unless you refuse to correct it,'" Yengich said. "I'll add, 'An error doesn't become a crime unless you intended the crime, knew about the crime or really consciously wanted the crime to happen from the beginning. It isn't simply that he did something wrong, that he accumulated some money, and therefore he's guilty."
During the trial, Yengich pointed out that travel reimbursements, prepared for Olsen by his veteran executive assistant, Angie Ferre, almost always included several events.
The seven charges and the alleged non-trips were on reimbursement sheets containing many different travel expenses, which were accurate.
Because of that, Olsen didn't know if a non-trip reimbursement had been included in a check or not, until he got a very large reimbursement in October for a water law conference in Springdale that he knew he didn't attend.
He cashed the $900-plus check, stayed in Eagle Mountain that weekend to help his wife with her complicated pregnancy and two weeks later approached city officials about paying the money back.
That was the charge that threw off juror Dave Hamilton the most, he said.But as the jury talked, he said, they couldn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Olsen had acted intentionally, knowingly or recklessly with an intent to deprive the city.
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Contributing: Steve Landeen, KSL-TV