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No Apologies

Victim of the state or child predator, Scott Gollaher’s judgment day is looming

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On July 13, 2012, just before 11 a.m., two groups of police officers armed with search warrants swooped in on separate addresses in Morgan County and Salt Lake City. Their target in the bucolic rolling hills of Morgan County was a mansion used as a weekend retreat by property developer Scott Gollaher and his wife Sharon. Their target in downtown Salt Lake City was the Gollahers' condo in a neighborhood north of Temple Square.

The search warrants followed allegations by two 11-year-old girls claiming that Gollaher, a convicted child sex abuser, had molested them during their May and June 2012 recreational visits to the Morgan County residence.

A small contingent of officers entered the unfurnished Morgan County property, while a much larger group of cops from four police agencies and FBI agents attached to the Utah Internet Crimes Against Children task force knocked on the door of the Salt Lake City condo, then battered it open with a ram. Hands raised above his head, 53-year-old Gollaher emerged from the bedroom and was cuffed.

Along with Gollaher's wife, Sharon, the cops also found an 11-year-old girl, the daughter of a friend of the couple, according to court testimony in Morgan County. A Salt Lake City detective took the child to the Children's Justice Center for an interview, and then Child Protective Services workers took her to the Christmas Box House. FBI special agent Jeff Ross attempted to interview Gollaher, who was already requesting a lawyer. "Don't take my silence as acquiescence of guilt," Gollaher told him, Ross recalled in a Salt Lake County court hearing.

A FBI forensic specialist located what Ross later testified were "hundreds" of images of child porn on a computer in Gollaher's small, high-end condo.

Gollaher is now facing prosecution in two Utah counties simultaneously. In Morgan County, he faces four counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, based on allegations from the two girls who went to his country mansion. In Salt Lake County, he faces one count of sodomy on a child and 10 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, relating to child porn that was allegedly found on a computer "and digital media," at the condo, three images in which Gollaher himself appeared, according to a probable-cause statement.

Child molestation charges are nothing new for Gollaher (pronounced "GOLL-yer.") The talkative, heavy-set building contractor did four years in prison for a 1996 jury conviction for child sexual abuse involving a 10-year-old girl. "I was the first person to go to prison for a touch," he says to a City Weekly reporter during a jailhouse interview, referring to his victim's testimony that he rubbed her genitals for six seconds.

Scott Gollaher appears at 2nd District Court in Morgan, Utah, representing himself. - JOSH SCHEUERMAN
  • Josh Scheuerman
  • Scott Gollaher appears at 2nd District Court in Morgan, Utah, representing himself.

Since that conviction and time served—and prior to his current set of charges—he was prosecuted for one count of child sex abuse in 3rd District Court in 2011, but the case was dismissed after the victim recanted.

If Gollaher is convicted this time around, he may not see daylight again. "I'm facing charges that could put me away for the rest of my life," he says.

Former Salt Lake City cop turned Morgan County prosecutor Jann Farris says Gollaher "gets a lot of people's attention for being a child molester sitting in jail." While the state sees him as a monster—"the worst of the worst," Farris says—Gollaher paints the state as the true monster, keeping him locked up for several years while they build their cases against him, he claims.

Farris says Gollaher "should stop molesting children" if he wants the accusations to stop. "I have just had to read so many reports and videos," he told Morgan County court. "I am so pissed at this guy."

The world of Scott Gollaher is one layered in ambiguity, denials and accusations against those aligned against him, be they victims, witnesses or part of the criminal justice system. He describes his alleged child victims and their families as being motivated by a desire for attention. "They got their social reward already," he says. City Weekly interviewed the parent of an alleged victim and the parents of the victim linked to his 1996 conviction. Those interviews highlighted that Gollaher got close to parents of children he was later accused of molesting by exploiting Mormon cultural commonalities or by allegedly presenting himself as an "expert" in child sexual abuse who can counsel child victims. Farris says Gollaher is "enough of a chameleon to use whatever he has in common with that person to build common ground."

Gollaher comes across as dismissive or even angry when his past is brought up, preferring to focus on current problems. But some issues in his past aren't so easy to dismiss. Take, for example, a chilling four-page list provided to City Weekly by one of the mothers of one of the children listed among 100-plus children's names he compiled in jail, prior to going to prison in 1996. Whether it's a list of victims or, as he contends, a list of children he had the opportunity to victimize but did not, it's a document that haunts parents of offspring who are named on it.

Gollaher defends himself before Judge Noel. S. Hyde - JOSH SCHEUERMAN
  • Josh Scheuerman
  • Gollaher defends himself before Judge Noel. S. Hyde

After dozens of interviews with former friends, colleagues, business partners and relatives, the truth about who Gollaher is remains as opaque as the thick bifocals he prods repeatedly back up his nose. Indeed, 15 years after he was initially released from prison after, he says, finally admitting to the Board of Parole and Pardons that he committed the crime he was sent to prison for, he still dances around his own culpability. He says he lied to the board because that was the only way to get out of prison. Now, he says, "I don't have any memory of touching her."

There's a crudeness and tenacity to him that creates a formidable and at times overbearing presence in the courtroom. Gollaher says he has been the victim of conspiracies because he refuses to hide his conviction. His ambition led him to develop the Rail Event Center, a multimillion-dollar concert venue a block from West High School. His sex-offender registry status brought controversy and consternation, all of which was highlighted in a February 2010 City Weekly cover story called "Bad Vibrations."

He alleges that others have repeatedly tried to use his conviction against him, whether to send him back to prison or extort money from him. "I have had people sit in my house asking me for a $1,000 a week, or they're going to call my parole officer," he says. His parole was terminated in 2010.

Behind bars now for almost three years, he is set to stand trial in Morgan County in late April 2015 for one of the two sets of cases against him. Gollaher complains his court-appointed legal defender in Morgan County did little for him over several years, while the state and the FBI, he claims, have hidden evidence from him.

"That's the first thing you learn at law school," prosecutor Farris says. "Don't have the facts on your side, argue the law."

Now, Gollaher is representing himself in Morgan. "I'm running around with a fire extinguisher that doesn't have any water in it," he says. He fights hard, flooding Morgan County court with dozens of motions and subpoenas to try to pick apart the evidence against him and raise questions about his accusers. "I want the truth," he says. Prosecutors and law enforcement "are afraid of the truth. Some of this stuff makes me look fucking innocent." He calls FBI agent Ross the "architect" of the evidence against him.

Gollaher (left) with Morgan County prosecutor Jann Farris - JOSH SCHEUERMAN
  • Josh Scheuerman
  • Gollaher (left) with Morgan County prosecutor Jann Farris

Gollaher's response to the question of whether he's attracted to young girls varies over time. In 1998, a parole-board hearing officer asked him if he had "a problem with sexual deviance?" Gollaher replied that he had been "challenged" with such an issue in the past, then added, "I suspect I'll have it for a lifetime, Sir." Ask the endlessly combative Gollaher now if he's attracted to prepubescent girls, he bats the question back to the reporter. "Are you?"

When the reporter says, "No," he replies, "So, I can say 'no,' too."

Gollaherville

Scott Gollaher grew up in Cottonwood Heights on a street lined with modest ramblers. The youngest of four brothers with a younger sister in tow, according to 1996 testimony by Gollaher's defense attorney at his sentencing, he left home when he was 14 and, two years later, opened his own concrete-contracting firm—even employing two of his own high school teachers during the summer.

In the late 1970s, he went on a LDS mission to Alberta, Canada. Gollaher married and had two children (he and his first wife divorced in 1998). He grew his company, employing 45 people, including ex-felons, homeless people and those down on their luck, according to court documents. He developed residential properties, notably several apartment complexes in Holladay, which residents nicknamed "Gollaherville."

Gollaher routinely set himself at the center of his Holladay, Utah LDS ward's social life, according to neighbors and former friends, by a combination of overly familiar bluster, pushiness and acts of kindness, such as ploughing people's driveways clear of snow.

In the early 1990s, Gollaher's friend and fellow ward member Alan Call and his wife Liz were struggling with their marriage. "That made us vulnerable to Scott's helpfulness," Alan's now-former wife Liz tells City Weekly. Alan Call and Gollaher went on camping trips together, where the latter solicited information about the marital strife, Alan recalls.

That friendship came to a deeply bitter end when the Calls' daughter Sarah said Gollaher had taken advantage of the family's trust to molest her, allegations that ultimately led to a jury sending him to prison.

Gollaher had hired Sarah Call to do ironing and to babysit his toddler son. In 1994, after watching a 20/20 special on child-sex abuse, Sarah, then 11, told her mother Gollaher had touched her genitals the year before while she slept on an outdoor trampoline at Gollaher's house.

Gollaher (left) with Morgan County prosecutor Jann Farris
  • Gollaher (left) with Morgan County prosecutor Jann Farris

Attorney Helen Redd grew up with Gollaher's younger sister. When news broke in the ward about allegations of child sexual abuse against Gollaher, his ward members initially defended him. "The instinct was to rally around him," Redd says. In the process, the Calls were shunned.

"The fall-out from him being arrested was we were completely ostracized," Liz Call says. "People would talk about the things Scott had done at Christmas time, the clothes he had given away, the help he had given people looking for work," she says. "He was practically a saint."

Redd, along with many others, wrote letters of support for Gollaher after the jury reached a guilty verdict.

Gollaher fought the conviction, fired his attorney and filed motions seeking to undermine Sarah Call's testimony. But on Aug. 15, 1996, Judge Timothy Hansen sentenced him to one to 15 years in prison, telling Gollaher that what Sarah testified in court, "is the truth. Whether you accept it, whether you're willing to accept it, whether you know it or whether you don't, that's the truth."

Shortly after, he was excommunicated from the LDS Church following a church court in Holladay, an event that distresses him to this day. He's concerned that publicity about his excommunication could hurt his defense in his upcoming trial in Mormon-dominated Morgan County.

A Knock at the Door

Gollaher maintained his claims of innocence throughout much of his time in prison. "I have no conscious memory of touching her," he told a parole-hearing officer in a November 1998 hearing about the night on the trampoline.

Back then, some in Gollaher's family still believed him. One of his nieces told a friend that her uncle "wasn't in jail for hurting kids. He's on a mission. The Lord sent him to help other people."

But some of those who had believed and supported Gollaher throughout his prosecution were in for a horrific surprise two years after his conviction. In early 1998, according to a Salt Lake County Sheriff's police report, Gollaher's first wife gave the police lists of names that were written by her husband while in the Salt Lake County jail.

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The four pages Gollaher had compiled included names of more than 100 pre-teen girls, who had, during his teenage and adult years, lived in the south end of the valley. A series of 10 separate initials ran along the top edge of the paper, x's marked against the names below some or all of the initials. Uniquely among all the names on the list, the line containing Sarah Call's name ends with the word "guilt."

Then-Salt Lake County Sheriff Det. Mike Mitchell theorized, according to notes City Weekly gained through a record request, that the initials were potentially references to acts of abuse: 'TP,' touch penis, 'RV,' rub vagina—constituting what Mitchell thought was a possible victim log prepared by a convicted pedophile.

Gollaher told a parole-board hearing officer that he wrote the list for himself, "simply to list as many young girls" with whom he had been alone, in case he needed to defend himself against future false accusations of abuse. Gollaher alleges that an attorney working for his first wife had used the four-page document—which he claims was altered from what he wrote—to undermine his support, as some of those who had sided with him against the Calls' accusations found their own children's names on his list.

When a detective knocked at Redd's door and showed her Gollaher's list with her daughter's name on it, her ears rang as if she were in a tunnel. "Why didn't I realize this was going to happen? Why didn't I have her checked?" she thought. Redd repeatedly asked her daughter but she did not remember any abuse.

Bottom line, Gollaher says, while in jail looking at the reporter through the glass, the "list" investigation did not result in a single charge, despite exhaustive efforts by detectives to interview parents and their children. "How does that feel going up your ass?" he asks.

The parole-board hearing officer said at the 1998 hearing that the letter that had most impacted him regarding Gollaher was one from the inmate's sister urging the board to keep her brother locked-up until he could tell his victims he was sorry.

Apologizing, however, was something Gollaher struggled to do. It had cost him so much to deny his guilt for the crime he had gone to prison for, he told the hearing. "Can I admit to Sarah Call? I've spent $133,000 saying I haven't. I'm divorced; I'm in the process of having my parental rights terminated, in the process of losing roughly $1 million," he said. He then said he would admit to molesting Sarah, "if it could make anything better. These people seem to be pleading for my acknowledgment that I have a problem."

In order to parole, Gollaher had to admit to a crime. "I was on a 1-to-15," he says now. "Absent the admission of guilt, they're going to give you silent time. It doesn't matter how innocent you are, you're going to do the time." He says, "It took me a very long time to say to the board 'I accept responsibility.'"

In 2000, he was released to a halfway house.

Friends No More

Post-prison, Gollaher shifted his business model from residential to commercial development, putting up an office complex called Trackside on the west side of Salt Lake City, then turning an adjacent warehouse into a marble and granite entertainment venue called the Rail Event Center.

Among those Gollaher involved in the Rail was his then-attorney Blake Nakamura—now one of two deputies over the Salt Lake County District Attorney's criminal division—and one-time LDS mission companion turned contractor, Scott Cook, a former friend going back 30 years. As a convicted felon, Gollaher couldn't own a liquor license. According to district-court documents, Gollaher's second wife, Sharon, whom he married in 2004, leased the property, which was in her name, to Nakamura and Cook, and they were to run the venue.

Gollaher's penchant for helping others, including single mothers and their children, repeatedly got him into trouble. His parole was revoked four times, the last time stemming from an encounter on Christmas Eve 2009, when he went to a Walmart to meet a former tenant to buy presents for her children. An anonymous call to his parole officer alleging he was with not only the mother, but also her children, resulted in him spending nearly five months in prison before the parole board decided to terminate his parole a year early on June 8, 2010, in part because of a recommendation by Adult Probation & Parole.

It was only a few months later that Gollaher was again the subject of law-enforcement interest. On Oct. 25, 2010, he visited a single mother's home at 9 p.m. with sunflower seeds, cookies and ice cream for the woman and her children. A young Hispanic girl present at the gathering alleged Gollaher touched her "private spot" while she sat on his lap surrounded by numerous children and teenagers. The child's mother phoned the Salt Lake City Police Department who brought in Gollaher for questioning.

"I'm sensing a pattern here, Scott," an investigating SLCPD detective told him in a transcribed interview, referring to his prior conviction and the Christmas Eve 2009 allegation.

"That I help people out?" Gollaher replied. Then he added, "Somebody could call that grooming, couldn't they?"

On Nov. 3, 2010, Sim Gill was elected to Salt Lake County District Attorney and appointed Blake Nakamura as deputy chief of his criminal prosecution division. By then, the Gollahers had filed for bankruptcy and, after 2011, had no further links to the Rail. The relationship between Gollaher and Nakamura and Cook had deteriorated to the point that wife Sharon Gollaher sued to evict Nakamura and the Rail Management Group.

In the midst of his losing battle for control of the Rail, Gollaher was charged by the Salt Lake County District Attorney on Nov. 12, 2010, with a single count of child sex abuse.

Sim Gill's office issued an internal memo in February 2011 to identify Nakamura's potential conflicts of interest, including Gollaher's child sex-abuse charge. But it wasn't until June 6, 2011, that Gollaher's case was handed over to the Utah County prosecutor's office. Two and a half months later, Utah County prosecutor Craig Johnson dismissed the charge after the victim's aunt recorded a 10-minute conversation with the victim where the child recanted her claim. Gollaher provided a copy of the audio to City Weekly, claiming that former business associates had attempted to set him up. The little girl told her aunt that her mother's best friend had promised her a "bike or a scooter," if she lied about Gollaher molesting her.

A Perfect Family

According to prosecutor Farris, the origins of Gollaher's current slew of charges go back to his befriending "a distressed single mother," Marie Maxfield, in late 2011, and taking on almost a parenting role for both the mother and her troubled daughter. The Gollahers "became surrogate parents," Farris says.

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In summer 2014, Maxfield gave multiple interviews to City Weekly. She recalled that Gollaher told her he suspected her daughter was being abused by another man. Gollaher said he was a self-taught specialist in child sexual abuse. He introduced Maxfield to families he worked with, including one Latina child, whose father was in prison for abusing her. "He said he had worked with many families and children of abuse, to help get their family together and on the right track," she says. Gollaher denies presenting himself as an "expert" in child sexual abuse, but says he tried to help Maxfield and her daughter.

That help included introducing Maxfield to a therapist close to Gollaher and also advocating for her with Maxfield's LDS bishop. "He positioned himself almost like a missionary, he and his wife under this self-appointed ... mission to strengthen families and especially little girls who were victims of abuse," the bishop recalled during a 2013 Morgan County court hearing.

Even Maxfield's bishop and his wife came to trust the Gollahers to "the point they agreed to have their daughters come up to play" unaccompanied by their parents, at the Gollaher's sprawling Morgan weekend retreat, Farris says.

Maxfield says the Gollahers served as parental figures for her and grandparents for her children. "It was everything I had always wanted in a family situation," she says.

Gollaher took Maxfield's daughter to a daddy-daughter dance at the ward house and, afterward, Maxfield recalls, told her about how "Scotty"—shifting to the third person—had been in jail for a while, although "Scotty didn't really do anything wrong." He told her it was an accidental "two-second touch on a trampoline."

Gollaher says, to this day, he loves Maxfield—"as much as I understand about love." While he says he will "burn her" if she lies on the stand, "I desire no harm to [Maxfield and her daughter] at all. They've been drug through the fucking gutter to try to be used to harm me," in support of his prosecution, he says.

Bubble Bath

Two girls from different families who were related to the bishop and his wife visited Gollaher's Morgan County ranch on two separate Saturdays in mid-2012. They complained to their parents about him allegedly touching them. Their parents filed complaints with the Morgan County Sheriff's Office and, late in May 2012, Gollaher was charged with four counts of aggravated sexual abuse.

Despite his arrest and his brief stay in jail and a visit from DCFS instructing Maxfield, she says, to keep her children with relatives when she had to work—the Child Protective Services worker declined to answer her questions about whether Gollaher was acceptable—she nevertheless continued to trust a couple she had come to view as almost part of her family. "All I saw was this great stuff coming from Scott. My kids were getting better, the school saw things were getting better. Why would you think there was anything wrong?" She asked the Gollahers to care for her daughter while she attended a funeral in Delta, Utah.

When Maxfield returned from Delta, she found out FBI agent Ross had arrested Gollaher on July 13 and that her daughter had been taken into foster care.

She was charged with child endangerment, pleaded no contest and, after multiple supervised visits over a year-long period, she and her daughter were reunited. They now live in California, and Maxfield says her daughter is a bright and happy teen—until the topic of Gollaher or law enforcement arises.

The multi-agency raid on the Gollaher's Salt Lake City condo ultimately resulted in Gollaher also being charged by the Utah Attorney General's office with 11 counts in March 2013 relating to child porn.

Gollaher's attorney, Edwin Wall, who declined to comment, has significantly slowed down progress of the Salt Lake County preliminary hearing by raising issues relating to the FBI's failure to comply with subpoenas for the agents' case files that Gollaher's defense was seeking. He has also highlighted federal prohibitions of the dissemination of child porn as restricting his client's ability to defend himself in court. Wall sought to show several child-porn images that feature Gollaher and an unidentified child to Maxfield's daughter as part of the preliminary hearing, but state and federal law would make that a crime. In the court-filed information, Ross stated that the dates the photographs were taken "coincided" with the dates and times Maxfield's daughter stayed with Gollaher and his wife.

In late December 2013, Gollaher finally got to examine in the Salt Lake County case one of the three photos the FBI had found in his condo of child porn where he was himself featured performing oral sex on a naked girl's torso. For 18 seconds in court, Gollaher says, he intently stared at the photograph of his face and the child's midriff. While acknowledging his features are on the photo, "it's very easy for me to know there's something wrong with that photo," he says. "It doesn't reflect reality." Ask if he means the image has been Photoshopped, he declines to comment further.

Other photos shown in Salt Lake County court included one of Maxfield's laughing daughter in a bubble bath, with Gollaher outside the bath, a bubble beard on his face.

Rowing Upstream

In late April 2015, Gollaher is scheduled to stand trial in 2nd District Court in Morgan, Utah, on four charges of aggravated sexual abuse, although at press time, no specific date has been set. Judge Noel S. Hyde has set aside 19 days for what Farris says is a two-and-a-half-day trial. Each side blames the other for long delays, but regardless of nearly three years having gone by since Gollaher was charged, Farris says, the alleged child victims and their families have never faltered in their desire to seek justice.

Gollaher has been adamant from the beginning of his current prosecutions that the multiple county, state and federal agencies aligned against him have withheld evidence from his discovery and record requests. Farris rejects the accusation. The rules of evidence are very clear "that we can't have Perry Mason moments," he says. "There is no smoking gun. If I didn't give it to him, I couldn't use it."

In order to defend himself, though, Gollaher needs evidence, and it hasn't been easy to come by. At a March 2015 appeal hearing before the State Records Committee, Gollaher alleged that government entities, over a year-long period, had been playing "a shell game" with his GRAMA requests for information relating to the 2012 condo raid. Not long after the Records Committee heard his case, and just days before the hearing, he abruptly received 136 color photos—not of child porn, but rather law-enforcement shots of the condo raid that Weber County authorities had previously denied having.

One key motion that Judge Hyde has yet to rule on relates to whether Gollaher, since he is representing himself, can question the two 14-year-old girls in the upcoming Morgan County trial or if stand-by defense counsel must do it instead, as Farris maintains. The case, Farris says, rests on their testimony, since there is no forensic evidence.

"I feel like I'm rowing in a river of shit," Gollaher says to City Weekly, "but I'm making progress."

While Gollaher orchestrates his defense from his Salt Lake County jail cell in the days running up to his Morgan County trial, he can still play devil's advocate. The state and the FBI should stop hiding evidence from him, he claims. "Let's say I am guilty," he says. "They're totally destroying the case."

If he does manage to defeat these charges and regain his liberty, don't expect him to stay away from children. When he is a free man, "I am around children and adults," he says. "Have you ever taken care of somebody's kids? Have you ever been at somebody's party and been around kids? Why would I stay away from something that is not an issue other than society has labeled and said it is?"