SALT LAKE CITY — A former Utah County commissioner was ordered Friday to stand trial on charges that he and a business partner bilked investors for millions after impersonating an LDS Church general authority to assure the development project was sound.
Former Commissioner Gary Jay Anderson, 68, of Springville, was bound over on three counts of communications fraud and one count of engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity, all second-degree felonies.
The ruling by 3rd District Judge Vernice Trease marks the conclusion of a preliminary hearing that took place earlier this month.
Alan Dean McKee, 56 — a businessman whose company, Ophir Minerals and Aggregate LLC, was once named Utah County Business of the Year — was earlier ordered to stand trial on identical charges.
However, in a 30-page memorandum filed following the June 2 hearing, attorneys for Anderson argued that McKee was the mastermind behind a proposed large Elberta industrial park called the Tintic Rail Line. McKee had already received much of the money he collected from Minnesota-based Ames Construction before he brought Anderson, a friend, on as a consultant in October 2015.
Defense attorney Nathan Crane said Friday that Anderson had no part in hatching the scheme, arguing that being involved in devising a fraud is an essential element of the charge.
"Mr. Anderson is coming way late to the party, way after this had already been implemented," Crane told the judge. He went on to say, "All the money was paid out by the victims and was in the pocket of Mr. McKee before Mr. Anderson became involved."
Crane claimed that Anderson had himself been duped by McKee, taking $110,000 from his own retirement funds to invest. While Anderson made some of that back through consulting fees, Crane said, "sitting here today, he's still out $63,000."
Anderson, a defense attorney, was commissioner from 1983 to 1986 and was elected again in 2006 and served until 2014.
Prosecutor Brian Williams countered that Anderson may not have been there for the plan's inception, but once involved, he actively sought to keep it going.
"These two have an agreement here that he's going to protect Mr. McKee," Williams said.
Ames board member Mark Brennan testified at the preliminary hearing earlier this month 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, seeking investments for permits "to get the project going."
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.
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.
Cannon testified that the letters were false and that, while McKee had approached Suburban Land Reserve about the Elberta project, by mid- to late 2012 the church division told him it was no longer interested.
Brennan received about a half-dozen phone calls from someone who identified himself as Bishop Stevenson, which investigators said were actually made by Anderson.
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, which he claimed was excess equipment that the LDS Church was trying to sell.
Brennan invested $250,000 for the equipment and Olsen paid $755,000 in down payments for the equipment, according to the charges. McKee told Olsen the equipment was being sold through bankruptcy court and was tied up in legal proceedings.
Olsen received phone calls from a man claiming he was David Thompson, president of Associated Land Brokers, a fictional California-based company, which was supposed to be acquiring the equipment. Investigators say those calls were actually made by Anderson, and that evidence on Anderson's phone indicated he was trying to throw off an increasingly frustrated Olsen.
According to Anderson's attorneys, the former commissioner never received money from Brennan or Olsen.
Anderson and his attorneys left the courthouse without comment Friday. Arraignment for Anderson was set for Aug. 19, while McKee is scheduled to return to court July 22.
The charges faced by both men each carry potential penalties of one to 15 years in prison.
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