It's as unique as any circumstance I've ever seen before. —U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby
SALT LAKE CITY — A former Salt Lake County administrator who misused public funds in a program for "lost boys" of the polygamous FLDS Church isn't going to prison because he did not personally benefit from the fraud.
A federal judge sentenced Richard M. Parks to 36 months probation Friday, waiving guidelines that called for him to serve eight to 14 months in prison. He also must pay $13,907 in restitution.
"It's as unique as any circumstance I've ever seen before," said U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby, noting Parks spent his career in pursuit of "laudable" objectives. "I'm convinced this is his one and only interaction with the justice system."
Shelby agreed with both the defense and the prosecution that Parks, 65, is a good man who made a mistake trying to help others. Both sides recommended probation over prison.
A grand jury last year indicted Parks on 25 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, making false statements and theft from a program receiving federal funds. Prosecutors accused him of falsifying time cards, overpaying workers and reimbursing himself for nonbusiness trips while he worked as the county's AmeriCorps program administrator.
In February, Parks pleaded guilty to one count each of theft from a program receiving federal funds and wire fraud in an agreement with federal prosecutors. The government dropped 23 other counts against him as part of the deal.
Parks admitted to falsifying the time cards of three workers, paying them for hours he did not confirm they had worked. He also admitted to reimbursing himself with grant money for a personal trip to St. George.
AmeriCorps, a national service organization, provided volunteers at a St. George safe house for young men fleeing the polygamous border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. Volunteers receive stipends for fulfilling the terms of their contracts. They often come from disadvantaged backgrounds and lack the employment skills and follow-through that private employers require.
St. George officials closed the "lost boys" shelter in October 2008 amid allegations that its clinical director was not properly licensed and that the house violated city zoning laws.
Parks' attorney, Rebecca Skordas, described Parks as a dedicated public servant who was faced with pressure and logistical problems to make the program work in a remote part of the state. Unlike other fraud cases, Parks did not embezzle money for personal gain, she said.
"People other than the defendant received financial and educational assistance that they likely would not have received," Skordas wrote in court documents. "Ironically, Mr. Parks’ breach of the public trust was done in a misguided attempt to promote a program that provided badly needed services for the public."
Prosecutor Carlos Esqueda said what Parks did was illegal but that he didn't benefit from it.
"Essentially, he did this for others in the AmeriCorps program," he said.
A yearlong investigation by the FBI and Salt Lake County Auditor's Office led to the charges against Parks.