(KUTV) — A state auditor’s report released Wednesday slams the Unified Fire Service Area and the Unified Fire Authority for a lack of internal control and what state auditors call “illegal incentives” paid to department employees and administrators, among other internal problems.
The audit has been going on for the last six months after allegations surfaced that top department administrators were paying out illegal bonuses.
The audit found that $81,000 in incentives were paid to the former chief of Unified Fire by two board members who were not authorized to make payments on behalf of Unified Fire Authority. Those payments were made without the knowledge of a “majority” of the UFA board, according to the audit.
The audit also claims $22,000 in incentive awards were paid to a former clerk.
The UFA's previous fire chief, Michael Jensen who resigned in August, was heavily criticized after it was revealed that he and three members of his administrative team had been paid more than $400,000 over a five-year period in "incentive pay."
Other concerns include:
The internal review from the Utah State Auditor’s Office of the Unified Fire Service Area’s practices states employees with Unified Fire Authority could be criminally prosecuted.
The audit of the nine-city service area which includes Eagle Mountain, Herriman, Midvale, Riverton, Taylorsville, Alta, Cottonwood Heights, Draper and Holladay, and the unincorporated part of Salt Lake County, focuses on allegations of improper compensation to certain employees in the. misuse of purchase cards, and other potential misuse of public funds. The UFSA is a local district created under Utah law as a special purpose local government. It is also a member of the UFA. Funding for UFSA is primarily generated by property taxes.
A statement from the 9-member UFSA board states it agrees with the finding of the audit.
“Since becoming aware of management deficiencies, the UFSA Board has acted promptly and aggressively to restructure the administration,” the board wrote in a statement on Jan. 17. “The Board recognizes its deficiencies in lacking sufficient oversight to have prevented these problems. We are deeply disappointed in the abuse of the public trust that occurred and the attempts by dishonest persons to circumvent established controls and law.”
Law enforcement investigators will review the UFSA audit to determine if criminal charges will be filed. It could fall under the jurisdiction of the State Attorney General’s Office or the District Attorney of Salt Lake County. The audit has not been reviewed yet by law enforcement, according to State Auditor’s Public Information Officer Nicole Davis.
UFSA’s board stated it has made corrections and will continue to follow recommendations made by the Office of the State Auditor to “regain public trust.” It also plans to work with authorities through investigations to recover misused public funds and resources.
Names aren’t listed in the report, but previous top brass at UFA have been:
Chief Michael Jensen (mutually split with UFA in August)
Deputy Chief Gaylord Scott
Legal Counsel Karl Hendrickson
CFO Shirley Perkins
UFSA board member Chris Pengra confirmed all of them have been removed from the department.