A Utah man agreed to a plea deal last week, admitting that he spearheaded an international scam that bilked Montezuma County residents out of about $60,000.
Appearing before Chief District Court Judge Doug Walker on Thursday, Nov. 5, Leroy Mariner, 28, of Salt Lake City, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor and felony theft charges. Mariner will be sentenced on Dec. 10.
Last week’s proceedings were temporarily stayed after Mariner admitted that he failed to re-apply for a public defender. Last month, the court ordered another application at the request of special prosecutor Todd Risberg, who claimed that Mariner’s financial conditions had changed since his initial request for a court-appointed attorney in July 2014.
“This is contemptuous,” Walker told Mariner on Thursday. “Quit dinking around with me. I’m not dinking around with you.”
Walker subsequently ordered Mariner to sit in the gallery. After taking up six other criminal cases, Walker called Mariner back before the bench. That’s when Risberg announced the plea deal, nearly identical to the agreement that was rescinded in June after Mariner failed to pay restitution.
The new agreement, which requires $40,000 in restitution, doesn’t include a jail cap on the misdemeanor theft charge. The felony count, which includes a deferred judgment and sentence, could ultimately be dismissed if Mariner complies with court mandates while under supervised probation for four years. If Mariner fails to comply, he could be sentenced up to 12 years in prison followed by three years of parole.
According to Risberg, Mariner devised a bizarre scheme to scam area residents during three months in 2013. Charged with a dozen felony and misdemeanor theft and fraud charges, Mariner reportedly helped to arrange a failed online education program through the Cortez-based Unlimited Learning Center for his native Independent State of Samoa.
Mariner, a Samoan living in Cortez at the time, was studying political science at Utah State University by taking online classes at the Unlimited Learning Center. One day, he struck up a conversation about his homeland, some 5,600 miles away in the Pacific Ocean, with Ann Miller, executive director of the learning center at E. Second Street.
When she learned that Samoa didn’t have access to web-based educational programs, Miller quickly offered to help. Coincidently, Mariner, who claimed he was the nephew of the Samoan ambassador to the U.S., and he arranged for the ambassador and high-ranking Samoan education, health and cultural affairs ministers to meet with local officials.
Mariner and the Samoan delegation subsequently rubbed elbows with county commissioners, tribal leaders, school leaders and even the sheriff, which all led to a public signing ceremony.
Turns out, it was part of a peculiar international sham.
One of several named victims, Ann Miller, executive director of the Unlimited Learning Center, allegedly fell prey after loaning her personal credit card to Mariner. He’s accused of using the credit card to fund a vacation to Dallas for several Samoan dignitaries. Miller’s out-of-pocket expenses, including airfare, hotel, gambling and alcohol charges, totaled some $30,000.
Miller also told the court that she loaned Mariner her personal credit card for emergency expenses after the Samoan ambassador reportedly lost his wallet.
Using her card, Miller said, the international delegation took a trip to Dallas, and spent about $30,000, some of it on gambling and alcohol spending. Miller said Mariner made promises to refund the expenses, but she never saw a penny.
At a previous hearing, Miller described Mariner as an “unscrupulous and blatantly dishonest” liar. She has requested that he be jailed, citing officials spent numerous man-hours training teachers, developing curriculums and readying online instructions.
Mariner has yet to offer any explanation, but he did apologize in open court over the summer.
“People were hurt,” Mariner said. “I’m sorry.”