SALT LAKE CITY — A letter issued Wednesday by the Utah Attorney General’s Office said a thorough review found insufficient evidence that Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, committed fraud in connection with his work raising money in a public lands fight against the federal government.
Ivory welcomed the news, but added he knew it was a smear campaign with no basis from the outset.
"These allegations were nothing more than desperate attacks by dark D.C. extremists who fear the loss of their stranglehold over western lands," Ivory said.
The Campaign for Accountability out of Washington, D.C., sought fraud investigations of Ivory in Utah, Arizona and Montana in June, alleging Ivory used his position as a state lawmaker to solicit funds on behalf of the American Lands Council, of which he is president.
“Ken Ivory has relied on his position and authority as a Utah state legislator to persuade unsuspecting local officials that if they contribute taxpayer dollars to his charity, they can help their states acquire federal land and increased revenues," Anne Weismann, executive director of the watchdog group, said in a press release issued this summer.
But the Utah attorney general’s letter, signed by Gregory N. Ferbrache, director of the justice division, said it found no likelihood of a conviction of Ivory based on the allegations raised by the watchdog group.
Ferbrache said a select and seasoned panel of prosecutors reviewed the case and no further action will be taken.
“Each agreed independently and collaboratively this case lacks a reasonable likelihood of conviction," the letter states.
House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, posted this on his political Facebook page in response to the news:
"Rep. Ken Ivory is one of the finest legislators that I've had the privilege to work with. He's a passionate champion of conservative causes that benefit all of Utah. Today's announcement is not surprising, but it does prove that these allegations have no merit and were a waste of time and resources. These outside liberal special interest groups see him as a threat to their left-wing agenda and are attempting to distract him from his continued progress. It will not work."
When it made the call for fraud investigations, Weismann’s organization asserted that Ivory made false claims to get Western states’ local governments to become dues-paying members of the non-profit council, which is leading a charge for states to get title to a majority of federal lands within their borders.
Ivory sponsored the Transfer of Public Lands Act that passed the Utah Legislature in 2012 and was signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert. Several other states have been jockeying for similar political aims that assert federal land ownership puts them at a disadvantage compared to East Coast counterparts.
Weismann’s organization said Ivory’s American Land Council — which raises money through membership fees — is pursuing a flawed effort to control public lands, despite certain legal analysis that shows it is constitutionally flawed. Other legal reviews have found the movement has constitutional traction.
Weismann’s group, in seeking investigations of fraud in Utah and elsewhere, claimed Ivory’s solicitation of funds from local governments is “tantamount to selling unwilling victims the Brooklyn Bridge.”
Utah is the second of three states to reject pursuing a case against Ivory. In August, the Montana Attorney General’s Office said it found no grounds to investigate further. There's been no word on the status of the issue in Arizona.