Page 4 of 5Getting the media in on the deal
By summer 2006, the Doll House probe had morphed from a business-license case into an all-out prostitution-ring investigation. Prosecutors also were alleging money laundering and, through the state organized-crime law, seeking to simultaneously charge the Doll House owners criminally while suing them to take their money and property.
Sheriff’s detectives working in Cottonwood Heights had enlisted the aid of Salt Lake City vice officers to find escorts who used to work at the Doll House. Several of the women with pending charges testified they understood their charges would be dropped or modified for helping out.
As Sheriff’s detectives were interviewing the escorts, everyone was interested in the general election race for district attorney between Miller and Democrat Sim Gill. One exchange between Det. Dan Bartlett and a former Doll House employee captured on Sheriff’s office videotape illustrates as much:
The two were looking at Websites of area escort agencies trying to find former Doll House employees. The escort recognized the photo of a woman famous as, reputedly, the only escort to ever have a charge erased in a plea deal from Salt Lake City Prosecutor Gill, who is notoriously stingy with plea deals.
Escort: That son of a bitcher. I don’t like Sim Gill.
Bartlett: Don’t vote for him, then.
A few moments later, Bartlett begins to press the woman—who says she has a “vendetta with Steve”—to tell her story on TV. He has arranged it with a local television news program.
Bartlett: I’ve got another question for you. Do you want to talk to the news?
Escort: No. I won’t do that to my mother.
Bartlett: No, no, they would shadow you out; they wouldn’t know it was you.
Escort: I don’t want to be on the news. That’s uncomfortable to me.
Twice more the Sheriff’s detective tells her, “nobody would know,” then gives up. The Doll House wouldn’t be charged for another six weeks.
It wasn’t the first time, and wouldn’t be the last time, one side or the other tried to prosecute the Doll House case in the media rather than in the courtroom.
Despite repeated efforts to interview Lohra Miller for this story, she declined to comment. In a letter to City Weekly, Miller wrote that her department’s policy prevents her from talking about Morgan or Maese, because both have pending cases. Someone at the district attorney’s office hasn’t been so careful.
Morgan is calling for an investigation to find out who leaked his letter of termination to reporters. The letter put forth Miller’s claim that Morgan was acting as a spy for Maese inside the district attorney’s office, or as KUTV 2, the first to report on the leaked document put it, “Kent Morgan is Accused of Being a Mole.”
Morgan says just four people, other than himself, should have had access to the letter: Miller and the three other district attorneys in the room when he was fired. Morgan says he didn’t leak the letter tarring himself to the press and neither did his attorney.
Approximately one week before stories based on Morgan’s leaked termination letter were published in early April, Miller sought out a meeting with Rep. Jackie Biskupski, a Democratic legislator who works as an assistant to Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder.
The conversation “was all very coded,” says Biskupski, but Miller’s message was clear: “More things are going to come out about Steve Maese,” Biskupski recalls the gist of the conversation. “I was under the impression something was going to break.”
Biskupski says Miller wanted her to know that no matter what news might come out regarding the D.A.’s investigation of Maese, it was not the district attorney’s intention to hurt Booth, Maese’s then-fiancée. Biskupski and Winder were both supporting Booth’s run for the Legislature. Biskupski says she walked away from the conversation with the impression that Maese was to be saddled with new charges.
But the story that came out at the end of that week wasn’t about new charges. It was Morgan’s leaked termination letter and was the first news story about Maese’s case in more than one year.
Morgan notes that a few days after the early April leak, the district attorney’s office released his phone records (Morgan claims illegally) with calls between himself and Maese highlighted. Later, the district attorney’s office asked the sheriff to declassify the report from Det. Bartlett that purportedly showed Maese had an inside district attorney source.
The day after the report was declassified, it showed up in the Deseret News. “What a coincidence,” says Morgan, who doesn’t think it was.
Biskupski, who is on friendly terms with Miller, doesn’t believe Miller was behind the leak of Morgan’s termination letter. Rather, Biskupski says, she believes Miller wanted to remind the Democrats in the Sheriff’s office that her prosecution of Maese was continuing, and the media eventually might make a connection between Maese and Booth the Democratic candidate.
The Salt Lake Tribune did make that connection the following week, running a story that would lead to Booth dropping out of the legislative race for House District 28. City Weekly has found nothing to suggest the paper got that information from the district attorney’s office. In fact, a smear package of material connecting Maese and Booth had been circulating in Democratic circles weeks before making its way to newspapers.