|Ex-S.L. County administrator of FLDS 'lost boys' program pleads not guilty to fraud|
By Dennis Romboy|
SALT LAKE CITY — A former Salt Lake County administrator charged with fraud in connection with a program for "lost boys" of the polygamous FLDS Church pleaded not guilty in federal court Thursday.
A grand jury last month indicted Richard M. Parks on 25 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, making false statements and theft from a program receiving federal funds. The indictment seeks $95,154 in restitution.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Brooke Wells scheduled a seven-day jury trial to begin June 18. Prosecutors did not seek to place Parks in custody, but Wells ordered him to surrender his passport. He has no prior criminal convictions.
Parks, who turns 64 next week, is accused of falsifying time cards, overpaying workers and reimbursing himself for non-business trips while he worked as the county's AmeriCorps program administrator.
AmeriCorps, a national service organization, provided volunteers at a St. George safe house for young men fleeing the polygamous border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. Volunteers receive stipends for fulfilling the terms of their contracts. Salt Lake County ran the program because Washington County did not have an AmeriCorps grant.
A yearlong investigation by the FBI and Salt Lake County Auditor's Office led to the charges against Parks.
Michelle Benward, who worked as the clinical director at the safe house, brought the alleged pay and time card irregularities to the county's attention in December 2010. Benward also received payments she was not entitled to under AmeriCorps policy, but authorities chose not to prosecute her, according to a Salt Lake County auditor's report.
St. George officials closed the "lost boys" shelter in October 2008 amid allegations that Benward was not properly licensed and that the house violated city zoning laws. Benward was fired at the same time.
Benward also told county officials that her sister, Jami Christensen, lived and worked as an AmeriCorps volunteer at the shelter and had an affair with Parks, who was married. He received travel reimbursements for at least three trips to St. George from Salt Lake City to meet Christensen, the report says.
Christensen, who suffered from mental illness, died of a drug overdose in July 2010 at age 38.
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Originally published Thursday, April 12 2012
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