SALT LAKE CITY — A former Utah County commissioner and a businessman appeared in court Thursday to hear evidence accusing them of defrauding investors of millions of dollars by, in part, impersonating high-ranking LDS Church officials.
Alan Dean McKee, 56, of Benjamin, was ordered to stand trial on three counts of communications fraud and one count of engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity, all second-degree felonies.
But attorneys for former Commissioner Gary Jay Anderson, 68, of Springville, asked for more time Thursday to file briefs and possibly deliver closing arguments before a judge decides whether he, too, should stand trial on identical charges.
Prosecutors say McKee — a businessman whose company was once named Utah County Business of the Year — attempted to get Minnesota-based Ames Construction to invest in a large industrial park in Elberta, Utah County, called the Tintic Rail Line.
Mark Brennan, an Ames board member, testified Thursday that McKee contacted the company about the project and acted as "a go-between" for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Ames Construction "to get the project going."
By late 2012, McKee claimed he needed money from Ames for permits for the project, Brennan said. He estimated that Ames paid McKee between $300,000 and $400,000 from 2012 to 2014 "to get this project rolling."
Between June 2011 and Sept. 2013, Ames Construction received three letters that appeared to be printed on letterhead from the LDS Church and Suburban Land Reserve, a real estate development arm of the church, supporting McKee's Tintic Rail Line Project.
"They were telling us that the church had gotten some of that information from us and they were still willing to proceed with the building of this project," Brennan said.
One of the letters appeared to be signed by Elder Gary E. Stevenson, the former presiding bishop of the church and now a member of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Another appeared to be signed by David Cannon, vice president of Suburban Land Reserve.
When handed a copy of the letter in court Thursday, Cannon testified that it was not his signature, it was not written on Suburban Land Reserve letterhead, the letter did not identify him by his correct title, and that the middle initial used in his name in the document was incorrect. He also noted that he did not have the power to authorize such a transaction and would never have sent such a letter.
Elder Stevenson, he added, was never involved in the Ames proposal.
Cannon also testified that McKee had originally approached Suburban Land Reserve about the Elberta project, but by mid- to late-2012, the church division told him it was no longer interested because it could never meet with some of the alleged investors.
McKee, however, was still telling Ames in 2014 that the church was interested in the project, according to testimony Thursday. The company also started receiving emails from an "Eric Peling," who allegedly represented Suburban Land Reserve. Cannon testified Thursday that there was "no one by that name in the church organization."
Brennan said McKee also told him through emails and text messages that he had been meeting with or had conversations with people such as LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor Dieter F. Uchtdorf, as well as Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, former House Speaker Becky Lockhart and U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada.
But Ames officials never met with any of those people. Several times there were scheduled meetings arranged through McKee, "but they always got canceled," Brennan said.
He said he eventually received about a half-dozen phone calls from someone who identified himself as Gary Stevenson.
Tyson Downey, an agent with the Utah Attorney General's Office who investigated the case, testified Thursday that those calls were actually made by Anderson and that the emails from Peling were actually sent by McKee.
In February, an LDS Church spokesman called the alleged fraud a "brazen scheme" and said Elder Stevenson did not know Anderson nor McKee, had never spoken with them, "and was completely unaware of their activities."
In addition to the project near Elberta, prosecutors say McKee tried to get Brennan and fellow Benjamin resident Chet Olsen to invest in farm equipment. Brennan said McKee told him it was excess equipment that the LDS Church was trying to sell, including tractors and plows. Brennan invested $250,000 for the equipment.
McKee allegedly told Olsen the equipment was being sold through a California-based company called Associated Land Brokers, which was able to obtain the items through federal bankruptcy court. Olsen said he was told that the equipment was being sold for "pennies on the dollar."
Olsen testified that he made $755,000 in down payments for the farm equipment, but McKee kept telling him that "court proceedings" were preventing the equipment from being delivered. When he tried to arrange a visit to see his purchased items, McKee gave him "one excuse after another," Olsen said.
Eventually, Olsen started receiving phone calls from a man claiming he was David Thompson, president of Associated Land Brokers. Two of the calls were recorded by voicemail.
Downey testified that those calls were actually made by Anderson. As for Associated Land Brokers, he said "there's no business under that name" and no one named David Thompson who runs such a business.
Downey, who served a search warrant on Anderson's phone during the investigation, said the former Utah County commissioner had told him that as a friend of McKee, he was trying to help by getting an increasingly agitated Olsen off his back.
Furthermore, the agent said he discovered text messages between McKee and Anderson that were sent just before Olsen received a call from someone claiming to be Thompson. One text from McKee provided Anderson with Olsen's phone number and the message: "Please remember this is from David Thompson," Downey testified.
John Curtis, a certified fraud examiner, testified Thursday that McKee had $2.2 million deposited into various bank accounts during that time. He believes McKee also made "signficant personal transactions" during that time based on the number of trips he made to Las Vegas, London, Ireland and Hawaii and the number of ski lift passes and sporting event tickets he purchased in addition to cash withdrawals.
During cross-examination, McKee's attorney, Rebecca Skordas, pointed out there was no way for Curtis to know whether those trips were for business or personal purposes.
Anderson's attorneys noted that their client didn't become involved with Ames until mid-2015 after the company had already made its final payments to McKee. Likewise, Anderson never received money from Olsen, defense attorneys said.
Anderson was paid $10,000 per month by McKee for consulting fees for a few months. But the defense, reiterating a point that Anderson did not make any money from the alleged fraud, countered by saying Anderson also invested with McKee and was still in the red.
An arraignment for McKee is scheduled for July 22. The next court date for Anderson to continue his preliminary hearing is set for June 24.
Anderson, a defense attorney, was commissioner from 1983 to 1986 and was elected again in 2006 and served until 2014. McKee is the owner of Ophir Minerals and Aggregate LLC.
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