Rep. Carl Wimmer said Wednesday that he had asked Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to fire the head of the Utah Department of Commerce during its investigation of Rick Koerber, who last month was indicted on federal charges of running a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme.
A series of e-mails from Wimmer, obtained through an open records request, also shows that the Herriman Republican had gone to the governor with concerns about the "witch hunting" of Koerber and offered his help to the indicted businessman, whom he referred to as "my friend."
Wimmer had previously acknowledged arranging meetings for Koerber with Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and various legislators, including then-House Speaker Greg Curtis, and appearing on Koerber's radio program.
He also spoke at a Koerber event in Provo last April, but insists that he gave no special treatment to Koerber, who he considers an acquaintance and political supporter, not a friend.
In January 2008, Wimmer e-mailed Tani Downing, the governor's general counsel, seeking a meeting with Huntsman, Shurtleff and Koerber to discuss a $30 million lawsuit Wimmer said Koerber planned to file against the Commerce Department for damages "due to the last three years of witch hunting."
"The governor needs to know the depth of what is happening here ... it's enormous," Wimmer wrote.
Wimmer said Wednesday that he didn't meet with the governor, but met with Downing and gave her a packet of information that Koerber had collected, including letters and transcripts of phone conversations with Commerce Department officials.
A few months earlier, Wimmer had joined Rep. Jim Bird, R-West Jordan, in requesting an audit of the Commerce Department's Securities Division based on allegations that officials there had abused their investigative powers and persecuted Utah businessmen, including Koerber.
"I wanted to make sure that was not the case here. If that was the case, I thought it could cause tremendous embarrassment to the governor, and I wanted to make sure he had that information," Wimmer said.
The audit released in July 2008 found that the Securities Division had used coercive tactics and overstepped its authority. It mentioned Koerber's case only to say auditors did not examine that ongoing investigation.
The Herriman Republican also said Wednesday that, before the meeting with Downing, he had urged the governor to fire Commerce Director Francine Giani, because he believed her agency was "out of control." He said that was based primarily on the allegations that led to his audit request and a disparaging e-mail that Wayne Klein, the former head of the Securities Division, sent to Shurtleff in 2007.
In the e-mail, Wimmer said, Klein warned Shurtleff not to believe Wimmer's advocacy for Koerber because Wimmer was an investor in his businesses.
"There was zero truth to this e-mail. Zero truth," Wimmer said. "It was made up to disparage me and make me look bad, and this was allowed by [Giani's] office and that should not be allowed."
Wimmer says he didn't invest money with Koerber, but he had taken an investment course that Koerber offered, which Wimmer never completed.
"The governor has trusted Francine and supported her in her efforts to do her job and accomplish the mission of the department," said Huntsman's spokeswoman, Lisa Roskelley. She said the governor was briefed occasionally on the status of the Koerber probe.
In another e-mail Wimmer sent in January 2008, the legislator asked Koerber about an event Koerber was planning, at which Wimmer hoped to speak and solicit donations and volunteers for his re-election campaign.
"Being that I would benefit greatly from this, I'd be happy to help coordinate or plan it," Wimmer wrote. "I have about three weeks left to fundraise, then I'm in [legislative] session." Donations to lawmakers are banned during the 45-day session.
Wimmer joined Bird that year in sponsoring legislation that would have stripped the Division of Securities of much of its enforcement power. The bill failed but a watered-down version passed this winter.
Both the request to meet with the governor and the correspondence with Koerber came just a few weeks after the Commerce Department had asked Shurtleff's office to file a civil complaint against Koerber.
The attorney general's office balked at filing the case, seeking more evidence, which Chief Deputy Attorney General Kirk Torgensen previously said -- and the office reiterated Wednesday -- never came. Instead, Giani took the case to the U.S. attorney, who charged Koerber on May 26.
In mid-April 2008, Koerber contacted Wimmer, thanking the representative for what he had done "to assist me and my associates," and informing Wimmer that he had been receiving death threats "as a result of the lies coming from the Department of Commerce."
Wimmer provided Koerber with Shurtleff's e-mail address and offered his sympathies. "I am so sorry that you are going through what you are, Rick," Wimmer wrote. "I want to help get you through this garbage."
"Let me know what else I can do for you," Wimmer wrote, and updated Koerber on the status of his concealed weapons permit that had been stalled at the Bureau of Criminal Investigation. "Your permit should be there any day!"
By Robert Gehrke
The Salt Lake Tribune