ST. GEORGE –Felony charges against Springdale Town Manager Richard Wixom and Police Chief Kurt Wright for “failure to keep and pay over public money” were dismissed during a preliminary hearing in Fifth District Court Wednesday.
Judge Wallace Lee dismissed the third-degree felony charges against the two Springdale officials which originally stemmed from an investigation prompted by a state audit published in June 2012. The audit found that between 2006 and 2011, Springdale police officers collected cash bail from foreign motorists during traffic stops. From there, town personnel were instructed to deposit the money into the town account.
The practice was acknowledged by the Springdale Police Department which stated in the audit that, “The majority of (foreign drivers) were happy to post cash bail to alleviate the inconvenience of paying by mail or appearing before the magistrate.”
Springdale officials said a judge with the Hurricane Justice Court had allowed the practice of collecting cash from foreign tourists, as there was no practical way to collect the money otherwise. However, another judge told the town to end the practice in 2011 and it did so.
Money collected from traffic citations is sent to the Hurricane Justice Court. From there a portion of the funds go to the state while the rest is redistributed between the communities the court has jurisdiction over. Putting the money directly in a town account prevented it from reaching the court.
The Utah Attorney General brought official charges against the two men on Feb. 11, 2013, accusing Wixom and Wright of not handing over more than $33,000 collected from foreign tourists to the justice court.
Still, neither man was accused of having personally profited from the funds in question, nor could a specific person be named who would have had the responsiblity for transferring the collected funds from a city account to the justice court.
Wallace said that while the practice had not been the best of ideas, there was not enough direct evidence against Wixom and Wright to move forward. The judge subsequently dismissed the charges.
“It’s as if 1,000 pounds have been lifted off my shoulders,” Wright said afterward. He added he felt he had been wrongfully accused and that during the ordeal had experienced a few sleepless nights and had grown a few more gray hairs. “It’s been tough,” he said.
As for what he planned to do next? Wright said, “Just carry on and hopefully we’ll get back normal.”
The courtroom was packed with people from Springdale, Rockville and the surrounding area who had gone to support Wright and Wixom. Members of the Springdale Town Council were also present.
When charges were filed against the two town officials, the Springdale Town Council held an emergency meeting and issued a statement of support for the two men. The town council also allowed Wright and Wixom to continue working as police chief and town manager during court proceedings.
“We’re elated,” Dan Mabbutt, of Springdale, said of the dismissed charges. “We think (Wright and Wixom) were being railroaded.”
Springdale continues to be audited in various degrees and has paid fines where necessary. Money owed to the justice court has also been paid.
Updated 8 p.m.
Ed. Note: Dan Mabbutt quoted in the report is an occasional contributor to St. George News.
- AG charges Springdale town manager, police chief: Criminal mishandling of tourist traffic fines
- Audit finds Springdale police took cash for tickets from foreigners
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