Kingman, Arizona - Colorado City Manager David Darger will spend the next three years on supervised probation for his role in the misuse of public money that belonged to the Colorado City Fire District.
Superior Court Judge Steven Conn rejected Darger's plea for unsupervised probation.
Darger and former Colorado City Fire District Chief Jacob Barlow were accused of misusing tens of thousands of dollars of Fire District money over a period of years.
Barlow was sentenced earlier this year to an identical sentence, but residents in the cloistered community clearly support Darger while Barlow has been banished and now lives in Yavapai County.
Colorado City is known for practicing plural marriages as part of their religion, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which broke away from the main LDS church in Salt Lake City.
Colorado City was founded 100 years ago.
It was against this backdrop the Mohave County Sheriff's Office and the Mohave County Attorney struggled to investigate the misuse of public funds.
Building a provable case against the two men was a daunting task due to wholesale resistance from people in Colorado City.
Indeed, Craig Boates, a lawyer for the District told Judge Conn at Barlow's sentencing hearing that the District did not suffer any losses - despite the almost daily misuse of funds.
Both Barlow and Darger, who was the secretary-treasurer of the District, signed the checks.
Ultimately, Darger and Barlow agreed to plead guilty to two lesser charges of solicitation of misuse of public funds, a class 6 undesignated offense. Should both men successfully complete their terms of probation, the two felonies would be reduced to misdemeanors.
Conn said he received letters from Colorado City residents that sought leniency for Darger "every day the last couple of months."
Defense attorney Arthur Higgs said his client comes from a strong moral background and that the "very public case" has shamed him and his family.
"His name has been drug through the mud," said Higgs, "but he's still the town's manager and he's still able to maintain a position of trust."
Darger has no criminal history and the outpouring of public support he has received is in stark contrast to Barlow, on whose behalf nobody from Colorado City wrote the judge a letter.
In his bid to win his client a stint in unsupervised probation, Higgs said if he steps out of line the entire town would know about it, but Conn noted there are no "media watchdogs" in Colorado City.
Darger's eldest daughter, Mattie Darger, spoke up for her father.
"We've been punished enough throughout this ordeal," she said in requesting Conn place her father on unsupervised probation.
Darger also read from a handwritten statement.
"As you contemplate sentencing for my case I trust you an see the real truth," he told the judge. "I faithfully served the Fire District for many years."
Darger said he was not aware that misusing District money was illegal.
The money went to lavish dinners, gas vouchers for employees, free lunches, gift cards, double dipping on travel reimbursement claims and other items.
"This has traumatized my family," he said. "There is no victim. No harm was done to the District. Supervised probation would serve no purpose."
Prosecutor James Schoppmann disagreed.
"We ask the court to treat Mr. Darger like anyone else," he said. "He betrayed the public trust. He had knowledge of specific requirements. He's pleaded guilty to two felonies and he needs to be on supervised probation."
Schoppmann said since Darger has no criminal history, the Mohave County Probation Department would place him on the least restrictive supervision.
In response to defense counsel's assertion that other regional fire districts engage in the same behavior, Schoppmann noted he has no knowledge of any of them doing so.
Who's to blame?
Schoppmann also rebuked assertions from residents in Colorado City who believe the tribulations faced by Darger and Barlow were the fault of the Mohave County Attorney.
"It's his fault," said Schoppmann. "The state has been lenient. We have considered his years of service to the community and his lack of a record."
Higgs to his credit agreed with Schoppmann, saying he didn't believe prosecutors were unfair, but he did say Darger and his family fear his probation officer might set him up for a fall.
Conn said he was unaware Barlow had been kicked out of the community. It's happened before. Between 2000 and 2006, hundreds of young men were banished from Colorado City by Warren Jeffs, the FLDS leader currently incarcerated on child sexual abuse charges.
Other men who disagreed with Jeffs were kicked out of the church and the city and their wives and children were given to other men.
Conn said he didn't know what significance to attach to the knowledge Barlow has been banished or that Darger received letters of support and Barlow didn't. "I don't know if it means Mr. Barlow is a better or worse person," he said, "but the defendant is going to have to earn a misdemeanor for two felonies."
Conn said he understood that the community feels resentment toward the sheriff and county attorney, but he also noted he's placed other Colorado City residents on probation for "conduct that goes to the core of this particular religion. The experience I had is probation won't insert itself into the bedrooms of the people in this community."
Conn said he also understood the citizens of Colorado City consider Darger a martyr, but he disputed his claim to being shamed by the case.
Unlike any other
"I have to admit there are people here who understand this community better than I do ... I understand people there don't want to live like every other community."
Having said that, he also said he saw no legitimate reason to not place Darger on supervised probation.
He did so for a period of three years and he placed special conditions on him.
The most significant is that Darger, like Barlow, must come up with $7,000 to pay for his own investigation and probation.
Because the Fire District claimed the misuse of funds resulted in no harm, restitution to the victim was not in play.
However, both Barlow and Darger agreed to pay a percentage of the county's expenses in pursuing the case.
Conn said the two cases mark the only times in his career that he's ordered defendants to pay for their own prosecution.
At Barlow's sentencing, Conn likened the payment to making a condemned man buy the bullets for his own firing squad.
He also ordered Darger to perform 100 hours of community service and warned him that if he violates his probation he could face up to four years in prison.
Following the hearing, Schoppmann said the investigation and prosecution presented problems.
"It's been a difficult case," he said. "We did hit a lot of resentment and obstruction."