SALT LAKE CITY — A former Utah Transit Authority board member who allegedly misrepresented more than $1 million on a commuter rail land deal wants a judge — not a jury — to decide his fate.
Terry Diehl, a prominent Utah real estate developer, argues in recent federal court filings that media coverage has the potential to bias jurors and that "laypeople" might not be able to understand the complexities of the law.
Diehl's lawyer, Loren Washburn, cites the reader comment section on the Salt Lake Tribune's website as evidence of possible prejudice.
"In those comments, Mr. Diehl is connected to figures as diverse as Leona Helmsley and Vladimir Putin," according to the filing in U.S. District Court.
Diehl faces five counts of filing a false declaration and seven counts of concealing assets in connection with his Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. The indictment came one day after the U.S. Attorney's Office announced an agreement to not prosecute the UTA for any possible wrongdoing.
Washburn contends a judge is better able to decide the case than a jury.
"This is the type of decision that an experienced trial court judge, with years of commercial litigation experience both before and after taking the bench, is better positioned to decide than a jury of laypeople, most of whom will likely never have encountered the bankruptcy code in any depth," he wrote.
Judge Clark Waddoups has not issued a decision on the request. A 10-day trial is scheduled to start Nov. 1.
Diehl filed bankruptcy for $41.7 million in debt, including $500,000 to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in March 2012.
Prosecutors allege he omitted more than $1 million in income stemming from the UTA FrontRunner transit-oriented development in Draper from his bankruptcy filing.
Several months before the bankruptcy filing, Diehl set up a company called Skyline Ventures Associates Inc., owned by his two daughters but managed by him, prosecutors say. The indictment alleges that although the authorized signatories on the company account were his daughters and office manager, Diehl controlled and directed the funds.
Diehl is accused of failing to report the money he directed in and out of the Skyline Ventures account. Rather, he reported only a fraction of his monthly cash receipts on his bankruptcy filings from April 2012 to May 2013 when his reorganization plan was approved, prosecutors say.