The man convicted in an international scam that bilked Cortez-area residents and the Unlimited Learning Center out of $62,000 has been sentenced to six months in jail.
After a 45-minute hearing on Thursday, Dec. 10, Chief District Court Judge Doug Walker accepted a plea agreement, sentencing Leroy Mariner, 29, of Salt Lake City, to six months in the Montezuma County jail on a misdemeanor theft charge. Mariner was also granted a deferred judgment and sentence on a felony theft count, which includes restitution of more than $62,500, four years of supervised probation and a mental-health evaluation.
If Mariner fails to abide by probationary terms, the court could sentence him to six years in prison.
In 2013, Mariner spearheaded an international scam that conned seven Montezuma County residents out of more than $50,0000 and the Unlimited Learning Center out of nearly $12,000. The ruse centered on establishing an educational outreach program in Samoa.
Ann Miller, executive director of the Unlimited Learning Center, said she loaned her personal credit card to Mariner, who racked up nearly $40,000 in unauthorized alcohol, gambling and travel debt. At sentencing, Miller requested that Mariner be jailed for two years, stating she feared that he would attempt to repeat the scam without conscious or consequence.
“It was a project of pure deceit,” Miller said of Mariner’s plot.
Mariner had portrayed himself as a Samoan with family and government ties that reached as high as the Samoan ambassador to the United Nations, Ali’ioaiga Elisaia.
Special prosecutor Todd Risberg, district attorney in La Plata County, informed the court that he couldn’t find any evidence that Mariner was Samoan or ever traveled to the Polynesian island-nation, east of Australia.
Risberg also shared an email from Elisaia, who toured the Cortez area in 2013 as part of Mariner’s con. Elisaia, Mariner’s purported uncle, said via email that he wanted to clear the name of his government after the rip-off, stating that he was neither related to the defendant nor did the Samoan government ever sanction Mariner to act on its behalf. His statement was read aloud in open court.
“We were made victims ourselves, and our names were also tarnished,” Elisaia wrote.
Risberg also noted that Mariner had attempted to mimic the 2013 scam this summer with the Utah Division of Indian Affairs. According to Risberg, Mariner contacted the Utah agency and requested to make a presentation on behalf of the Samoan government.
“We have been wondering what he’s doing,” Risberg said of Mariner’s actions. “It’s all been made up.”
Re-appointed to represent Mariner last week, public defender Ken Pace said he suspects that his client suffered from bi-polar disorder, stating that Mariner “lives in a delusional world.”
“Jail is not going to change Mr. Mariner,” Pace argued. “He needs mental-health treatment, not jail.”
Also requesting leniency, Mariner told the court that “a lot of things went wrong in 2013,” indicating that the Samoan government had since abandoned him.
“I’m really sorry,” Mariner said at his sentencing. “I’m willing to take full responsibility.”
In addition to Miller, several other victims also testified at last week’s hearing as Mariner sat hunched over at the defense table.
“Mr. Mariner was smug, arrogant and demanding,” one victim said. “He was slimy.”
“We feel like we were kicked in the face,” another victim testified.