Just when we all thought the city’s rodeo drama was over, a new scandal has emerged. Apparently, the Pony Express Days Rodeo Committee never got formal approval from the IRS to operate as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt charity.
In a March 18, 2014 public meeting Jared Gray, a director of the committee’s board of trustees, explicitly stated that they were a “501 non-profit.” They have also heavily implied as much in the marketing material they have produced since then.
But if the Rodeo Committee never actually filed an application to become one, they might have committed fraud against the taxpayers and sponsors who subsequently relied upon their statements to justify their donations. If the Rodeo Committee filed an application but it got denied by the IRS, and they never told anyone, they have a whole host of other problems. But we don’t know exactly what happened because they haven’t responded to multiple requests for proof of their tax-exempt status.
To make matters worse, Mayor Pengra explicitly stated in this same public hearing that he had personally verified that the Rodeo Committee was a 501(c)3 charity. City Administrator Ifo Pili and City Attorney Jeremy Cook also apparently failed to verify that the Rodeo Committee was legit before they arranged the city’s donations to it.
City residents should know that even though there are no longer any specific appropriations for the rodeo and its associated events in the city’s budgets, they still get a substantial amount of non-monetary support from taxpayers. I don’t believe the Rodeo Committee (now known as Pony Express Events) pays anything for the police services, utilities, and marketing assistance it receives from the city. I also believe it only pays $1 for its use of the rodeo grounds. It may even have access to city-owned equipment and other resources which they use for free.
If you would like to learn more about how deceitful, incompetent, and/or corrupt this whole arrangement has been, you’ll want to read the public statement I made to the council at the May 17, 2016 budget hearing as well as browse through the research material that backs up my assertions. The proof is damning.
What’s really disturbing is that when I brought this potential fraud to the attention of Mayor Pengra and the council, the mayor wasn’t upset at Wendy Lojik or Jared Gray, the former president and current president of the rodeo committee. He was incensed with me for exposing the scandal!
It is also slightly troubling that the council remained stubbornly silent and never asked Lojik to explain herself when she got up and told them everything was in order. It would have been nice if they had at least challenged her a bit and asked her to explain the current status of her application, if it even exists. Maybe they were just too shell-shocked to respond to the unfolding drama.
What is really telling is that Lojik claimed that she had hired one of Utah’s best law firms to represent the committee in this matter. Normally, people don’t hire the best (and probably most expensive) lawyers to handle routine charity filings. They usually hire the best only when they think they are in real trouble.
While we wait for the rest of this drama to unfold there are two things that should happen: (1) the city should immediately withhold all taxpayer resources from the rodeo committee going forward, and (2) residents should boycott the city’s Pony Express Days events.
We should not be doing business with or patronizing a dishonest organization.
To watch a good summary of why citizens have been opposed to funding the rodeo in the past, check out this clip of Jen Morrison’s public statement dated March 18, 2014. It’s very succinct.