Communications Fraud and Theft from a Utah School District

A southern Utah man was placed being bars Friday for communications fraud as well as theft after he installed audio and video equipment for a school district that was inferior to what they had purchased.

Not what they ordered

Communications Fraud

Photo by: MiNe

An investigation into Dustin Taylor, a former manager of a St. George company that sells audio and video systems began last year after the Washington County School District as well as a local theater company discovered that although they had ordered high quality equipment for their facilities, what ended up being installed was far lower value. Police discovered Taylor had been running his own business on the side and had allegedly taken the better equipment before installing it for a job contract through his side business. Taylor was arrested for communications fraud as well as multiple charges of theft.

Communications fraud

Utah Code 76-10-1801 states “Any person who has devised any scheme or artifice to defraud another or to obtain from another money, property, or anything of value by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, promises, or material omissions, and who communicates directly or indirectly with any person by any means for the purpose of executing or concealing the scheme or artifice is guilty of:

a) A class B misdemeanor when the value of the property ( . . . ) is less than $500;

b) A class A misdemeanor when the value ( . . . ) is [between $500 and $1,500];

c) A third degree felony when the value ( . . . ) is [between $1,500 and $5,000];

d) A second degree felony when the value of the property ( . . . ) exceeds $5,000.

The monetary loss of the customers who were defrauded by Taylor was estimated to be around $34,000.

Theft by deception

Not only did Taylor deceive customers by installing inferior equipment, but he took the high quality equipment from the company he was working for to install elsewhere without their knowledge. As Utah Code 76-6-405 states, he “obtain[ed] or exercise[d] control over property of another person: by deception; and with a purpose to deprive the other person of property.” The charges for theft by deception depend on the value of the item stolen and are identical to the charges by value for communications fraud. In Taylor’s case, the value of the audio and video equipment that Taylor had appropriated and resold or had in his possession was estimated to be as high as $89,000. This resulted in multiple theft charges; each being another second degree felony. Each second degree felony charge for communications fraud and theft is punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine of $10,000.

Reduced sentencing for first-time offender

Photo by: Mark Strozier

Photo by: Mark Strozier

It is unknown whether Taylor intentionally concocted a plan to deceive the school district and other companies or if an opportunity to make more money fell into his lap and he thought no one would be the wiser. Either way, what he did was against the law and he risked spending nearly a lifetime in jail, especially if his sentences were to be run consecutively. Fortunately, Taylor had a clean record and was an outstanding citizen prior to his theft and communications fraud charges. This was likely his saving grace.

What a deal

As part of a plea deal that reduced his charges to third degree felonies, Taylor was sentenced for up to five years in prison and a fine of $5,000 for communications fraud and five years each for multiple theft charges as well. The judge also ordered these to be run consecutively. Following this sentencing, the judge changed the sentencing to a single term of a five months and then even further reduced the prison term to 60 days for the 39 year old father of four. After his two months in jail which began Friday, Taylor is ordered to be on probation for three years and offer 100 hours of community service. He was also ordered to write letters of apology to the customers he victimized. For multiple second degree felonies to end in a single two month prison sentence is incredible. The probable explanation for the judge’s mercy, beyond the obvious help of an experienced defense attorney, is likely due to Taylor’s lack of a criminal record prior to the communication fraud and theft charges. For anyone facing charges that seem too immense to handle, don’t lose hope until discussing what a criminal defense attorney can do for you.

Charity Fraud

A person or business may be guilty of charity fraud if they take donations from others based on information that is false or misleading.

Million dollar charity fraud

Photo by: zack McCarthy

Photo by: zack McCarthy

In May of 2015, ringleaders of four deceptive cancer charities were found guilty of charity fraud after authorities discovered $187 million dollars had been swindled out of generous donators. These four companies sought out donations over the course of four years through telephone, mail, and the internet. Altruistic contributors donated to these four charities whose names bared a close resemblance to well-known organizations. The Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services, Children’s Cancer Fund of America, and the Breast Cancer Society were all fraudulent businesses run by executives who pocketed 97 percent of the donated proceeds. Although their charity fraud has been discovered, most of the money is gone and will never be returned to the donators or contributed properly.

Charity fraud on a smaller level

Not every case of charity fraud involves millions of dollars in nationwide corruption. Charity fraud can happen locally and at a smaller monetary level. Earlier this month, a Logan Utah man was arrested for receiving funds regarding a phony GoFundMe story he created. The Logan man used a picture he found on the internet of a female cancer patient and made up a false story about a young boy dying of cancer who didn’t actually exist. It isn’t known how much money he acquired fraudulently but he was charged with communications fraud for his role in the bogus charity page. Ten months earlier in the same city of Logan, 26 year old Lesley Jensen collected over $20K through combined donations on a GoFundMe page and a charity event put on by her compassionate employers. The reason for the charity was to help Jensen with monitory support for her and her daughter while Jensen battled a rare form of brain cancer. Fortunately for Jensen, unfortunately for those who gave her money, Jensen didn’t actually have brain cancer. She was just willing to take advantage of those who cared about her. She was later charged with nine different felonies related to her charity fraud: Five counts of communications fraud, and four counts of forgery for altering medical documents.

Motives for deception

Photo by: Steven Depolo

Photo by: Steven Depolo

There are many duplicitous companies around the nation that prey on the willingness of individuals to donate to a cause; however some situations of charity fraud may be due to accidental misinformation or duress.
• The point of a charity is to emphasize on a true hardship, often medical. Some exaggerate their suffering a bit too far, stating that their state of misfortune is worse than it actually is. Often these can be cases of tall tales gone completely out of hand, or of hypochondriacs who truly believe they are dying of a common illness.
• Others who choose to commit charity fraud may feel that they have no other options than to take from others. Perhaps they see no way out of their poor financial circumstances and being too embarrassed to ask friends and family for help, they create a situation in where they someone would be worthy of help.
• Businesses that take on charity ventures might oversee how much it takes to run a “non-profit” business. They may originally state that a higher percentage of donations are going to their cause and end up using the majority of the funds to hire employees or rent office space. This difference in percentage can be assumed charity fraud when it’s nothing more than poor management of company funds.

Charitable Solicitations Act

Most states have a version of the Charitable Solicitations Act to protect those donating to charities and charitable companies from false accusations. There are detailed rules and regulations that charities must follow in order to be in accordance with the law. Any individual or business who is planning on creating or supporting a charity should educate themselves with the Charitable Solicitations Act (Utah Code 13-22) before continuing. For those who are facing communications fraud or other charges related to charity fraud, contact a criminal defense attorney.