The Utah Legislature is on the verge of granting approval for a settlement in a lawsuit that accuses state officials of improperly utilizing millions of dollars in federal grant funds. Senate Joint Resolution 7, which was recently disclosed prior to the upcoming legislative session, aims to endorse a $1.55 million settlement to be paid by the state of Utah to the federal government in order to resolve the lawsuit initially filed by a prison inmate.
Reginald Williams, a 62-year-old individual, initiated the lawsuit against the state in 2015 under the federal False Claims Act. Williams, who worked in the prison print shop in 2012, grew suspicious of the Utah Department of Corrections’ handling of federal funds. After dedicating countless hours to examining documents, questioning administrative staff and prisoners, and observing prison guards, Williams claimed to have uncovered evidence that the Department of Corrections had acquired federal funds through deceitful means and utilized the money to cover department salaries.
In 2020, several years after Williams’s lawsuit, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah became involved and filed a complaint against multiple officials from the Department of Corrections, the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, the Department of Public Safety, and other state entities. The complaint alleged that the defendants misused the grant money by substituting it for state funds rather than supplementing them. Specifically, federal funds were utilized to pay the salaries of existing state employees, and the vacated positions were not promptly filled as required.
The original lawsuit contended that Utah officials had cost taxpayers over $50 million through the improper use of federal funds. However, the proposed settlement amount represents only a fraction of that sum. As per Utah law, the settlement necessitates approval from the Legislature since it exceeds $1 million and will incur costs for the state.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office, responsible for defending the state in the lawsuit, declined to comment on the settlement. Similarly, the governor’s office refrained from making any statements regarding the matter.