SALT LAKE CITY — It's been more than three years since three men mysteriously disappeared in Salt Lake City without much of a trace.
Levi Collins, 34, Danny "Kiko" Gallegos, 35, and Braden Emerson, 23, were last seen on Nov. 1, 2014. All three men are presumed to be dead. But their bodies have never been found, no arrests have been made and no charges filed.
But there are a lot of suspicions and allegations.
The rumors and accusations continue to swirl around two men — Richard Christopher and his son Justin Christopher — and questions are still being raised about whether the Christophers are responsible for the trio's deaths, and what culpability each might hold.
With Richard Christopher scheduled to be released from federal prison on a firearms conviction in a month, and his son recently being sentenced to probation in federal court for money laundering, questions about their involvement in the case have been renewed.
The Christophers were the owners of JC Custom Jewelry, 230 W. 200 South. Justin Christopher also helped Gallegos — a drug trafficker and FBI informant — launder money, according to numerous search warrant affidavits.
According to several of those warrants, Gallegos went to the Christophers' jewelry store on Nov. 1, 2014 — the day he and his two friends disappeared — with $200,000 cash for the purpose of buying a house. Investigators believe the three men stopped by on their way to Bountiful where they had told family members they were going to ride ATVs that day. Collins and Emerson stayed in the car while Gallegos went inside.
"Justin told him that he had decided that he no longer wanted to purchase the house for him. According to Justin, Danny then verbally threatened him. Justin stated that at this point, his father, Richard Christopher, walked up behind Danny Gallegos and shot him in the back of the head, killing Danny," police wrote in a warrant served in April of 2015.
The jewelry store closed its doors three days after the three men went missing.
Three weeks later on Nov. 21, 2014, Salt Lake police, with the assistance of a SWAT team, served a search warrant on the Christophers' motorhome. Numerous guns were found inside.
Richard Christopher pleaded guilty in June of 2016 to being a restricted person in possession of a firearm and was sentenced to 44 months in federal prison. He is scheduled to be released next month on Jan. 28.
The attorney for Justin Christopher, Loni Deland, has said several times over the past couple of years that his client did not kill anyone.
He repeated that assertion again during Christopher's recent sentencing on his federal conviction of money laundering charges related to his dealings with Gallegos.
But Deland also made several other statements in court about the case of the missing men that caught the attention of the victims' families.
He started by recounting Gallegos' trip to the jewelry store on Nov. 1, 2014. Justin Christopher told him he no longer wanted to help him.
"My client had decided that he no longer wanted a part of that. He wanted to withdraw. He didn't want to do any more money laundering," Deland said, according to the transcript of the hearing. "As the argument went on and Kiko began to insist and threaten that my client go through with this and purchase this house, my client's father walked up, with no foreknowledge by my client, and put a bullet in the top of this man's head. Then he went out and made arrangements to kill the other two people that were sitting out in the car.
"My client got involved with the disposal of the remains and, after some months, came to me and said, 'I can't live with this anymore,'" Deland continued.
He also told the court that Justin Christopher has given all of this information to the Salt Lake City Police Department.
"They have not been able to go forward with a prosecution and may never for the simple reason that when these bodies were disposed of, they were incinerated. My client led them to where the remains, the bones would be, but they were burnt to the extent that they couldn't determine from the DNA — they couldn't determine it was a human bone," he said.
According to Deland, the problem the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office is having with filing charges is that while blood evidence was collected believed to be from Collins and Emerson, there is nothing on Gallegos, leaving open a potential defense theory that his death was faked to avoid prosecution on his own charges.
"I don't know, like I said, if they will ever prosecute (Richard Christopher) or not. But my client has gone and cooperated and done everything that they have asked him," Deland said.
But assistant U.S. attorney for Utah Stewart Young told the court during the same hearing that this was "not a typical money laundering" case. "There are concerns, and I think valid concerns, that Mr. Justin Christopher was more involved than just disposing of the bodies," he said, based on certain evidence.
"It is not clear at all that he had any involvement in the murder of any of these individuals," the prosecutor continued, though he noted that the younger Christopher had numerous opportunities to tell police what had happened but never did so until after his arrest.
Deland said he talked to Richard Christopher's mother, who called her son "evil personified."
When it was Justin Christopher's turn to address the court, he did not mention his father or the deaths of the three men. Instead, he focused on his accomplishments over the past three years and how he has stayed out of trouble, gone back to school and started a family.
"I have worked very hard these last three years to prove that I can be a better person and build a good life," he said.
U.S. District Judge Dee Benson sentenced Christopher to time served and placed him on 36 months of probation. In handing down his sentence, he told Christopher that he was "giving you a break here." But warned he was "not going to be lenient at all" if he violates any of the conditions of his supervised release.
"I have given you a chance with your life," Benson said.
The judge also commented during sentencing to Christopher, "I don't know what was going on with you and your involvement in the murders that you claim your dad committed and that apparently he has admitted to. I don't know why that is not being in state court."
"He never admitted it," Deland corrected.
"Maybe he didn't admit it. I thought you said he would if …" Benson continued.
"He said he would and then he wouldn't," Deland said.
"Well, that is a wrinkle too," Benson said. "I don't know. That was very serious misconduct and I don't know what your full involvement was."
The statements made by Deland in court caught the attention of the families of the three missing men. Several family members have been outspoken in the past about their frustrations that charges have never been filed. But after meeting with members of District Attorney Sim Gill's office after the Christopher court hearing, some of those family members were more reserved with their comments.
"We miss and love Levi. We're hoping to get answers," was all Judi Rinker, Collins' mother, said.
Gill declined to comment on any specifics about the investigation or on anything Deland said, only stating that the case of Collins, Gallegos and Emerson is still a "high priority" for his office and Salt Lake police and that he is "actively engaged" in the investigative effort.1 comment on this story
University of Utah law professor and former federal Judge Paul Cassell said despite Deland's statements in open court, they would not be admissible if Richard Christopher were to be put on trial in state court for murder because they are considered hearsay. If Richard Christopher were to make those comments directly or if his attorney were to make those comments, they could be used in court, he said.
As for whether Justin Christopher could be subpoenaed to testify in court against his father, Cassell — who is not involved in the Christopher case — said prosecutors would also need corroborating physical evidence to back up whatever the younger Christopher had to say.
There is a great concern about convicting someone solely on one person's confession, he said, particularly when the incentive for finger pointing from that person is high.