Just as the victims of a $60,000 international scam predicted, an alleged con man failed to abide by the terms of a plea deal last week, resulting in a scheduled jury trial later this year.
At a delayed sentencing hearing on Friday, June 26, Chief District Court Judge Doug Walker simply asked if Leroy Mariner, 28, of Salt Lake City, had paid an initial $40,000 restitution payment. The court clerk shook her head, no.
Special prosecutor Todd Risberg immediately rescinded the plea deal, which called for a cap of 60 days in jail. Facing a dozen felony and misdemeanor theft and fraud charges, A two-week trial is set for Nov. 30.
At Friday's hearing, public defender Kenneth Pace entered a not guilty plea. Pace said he had plans to meet with his client's father this week, instructing the court that the $40,000 restitution payment could possibly be obtained at that meeting.
"If he comes up with the money, then we would talk again," Risberg said after Friday's hearing. "But the plea deal has been withdrawn at this point."
Risberg told victims that he didn't expect Mariner to have the payment. That was the same sentiment shared by victims when the original hearing was stayed on Tuesday, June 23. That hearing was delayed, because Mariner had failed to make the $40,000 payment.
"He's made promises before," said victim Ann Miller.
Mariner's next court appearance will be Sept. 29, a motions hearing, if defenders or prosecutors file court requests.
The case against Mariner resulted after he helped to arrange an online education program through the Cortez-based Unlimited Learning Center for his native Independent State of Samoa. The e-education program never developed, despite a 2013 public signing agreement with Samoan and local dignitaries.
Miller, the executive director of the center, fell victim after she loaned her credit card to Mariner. He's accused of using the credit card to fund a vacation to Dallas for several Samoan dignitaries, including the Pacific Islands ambassador to the U.N., Aliioaiga Feturi Elisaia.
Miller's expenses, including airfare, hotel, gambling and alcohol charges, totaled $30,000.
At the primary sentencing hearing on Tuesday, June 23, Miller described Mariner as "unscrupulous and blatantly dishonest." She requested he be jailed, citing the hours spent training teachers, developing curriculums and readying instructions.
Risberg and Pace said they were baffled by the crime, stating it offered Mariner little personal financial gain. Eight victims have requested restitution totaling more than $60,000.
"The scam itself doesn't make a lot of sense to me," said Risberg.
"It's bizarre," Pace said.
Mariner has yet to offer any explanation, but he did apologize last week in open court.
"People were hurt," Mariner said. "I'm sorry."