Two of the petition sponsors behind a rezone referendum concerning high density housing in Stansbury Park have been charged with misdemeanors in 3rd District Court.
Erin Giles, 33, of Stansbury Park, is charged with two counts of misdemeanor misconduct of electors and officers for a referendum. Rachel Torzillo, 27, of Tooele, is charged with one count of the same misdemeanor.
A detective in the Tooele County Sheriff’s Office was assigned to investigate whether the verification signers on the referendum petition had signed the verification statement without observing citizens who signed, according to a probable cause statement.
State law requires the person who gathers signatures on a referendum packet to sign a verification statement.
The statement, located on the referendum packet, reads: “All the names that appear in this referendum packet were signed by persons who professed to be the persons whose names appear in it, and each of them signed his name on it in my presence.”
During the investigation, the detective spoke with an individual who said he had taken two signature pages, charging documents said. The individual collected signatures on one page and gave the second page to a corrections deputy with the Tooele County Sheriff’s Office.
The individual told police he obtained approximately 18 signatures from family members, according to charging documents. The corrections deputy collected the names and signatures of 9 people, including himself, and returned the page to the first individual.
The first individual told investigators he returned one of the signature pages to “a girl in the ‘tent’” and the second was left in his mailbox and picked up by a person unknown to him, charging documents said. The signatures obtained by the individual were included in a packet that was signed by Torzillo on June 26.
The corrections deputy was interviewed by investigators and told them he returned the packet to the individual he received it from with the nine signatures he gathered, the probable cause statement said. The signature page, which includes the signatures gathered by the corrections deputy, was signed by Giles on July 5.
Investigators also spoke with another Tooele County Sheriff’s Office employee who said he, his wife and his son signed the referendum in front of a male signature gatherer, charging documents state. The employee’s signature was located in a packet that was signed and verified by Giles.
Tooele County Attorney Scott Broadhead released a statement Tuesday regarding the criminal charges. In the statement, he said there have been inquiries into the filing of the charges.
“It may seem like a harsh decision, but Utah Code does not leave me any discretion in this instance,” he said.
Broadhead cited the section of Utah Code that outlines it is “unlawful for any person to sign the verification for a referendum packet knowing that … he has not witnessed the signatures of those persons who names appear in the referendum packet.”
In the statement, Broadhead also cited a subsection of the same section of Utah Code, which states the “county attorney or municipal attorney shall prosecute any violation of this section.” He said the attorney still retains discretion to how the violation is prosecuted.
Broadhead also contended with the argument the “shall prosecute” language only refers to who should prosecute the charges, as opposed to directive to prosecute.
“This argument is not supported by any law or any normal prosecutorial practices,” he said.
In the statement, Broadhead also said the sheriff’s office investigation turned up false verifications on five separate signature packets but the investigation would not continue.
Although the problem of false verifications appeared to be widespread, it was determined that further investigation was unnecessary at this time.
The referendum effort was started to give voters the opportunity to overturn the Tooele County Commission’s decision to rezone 5.38 acres north of the intersection of Clubhouse Drive and Country Club Drive from commercial shopping and single-family residential to high density housing.
Tooele County Clerk/Auditor Marilyn Gillette, in a statement to the sponsors, said Derald Anderson, the applicant for the rezone, made allegations the verifiers had not watched each person sign the petition on July 10.
Petition sponsors were tasked with collecting 2,749 valid signatures to certify the referendum petition. Gillette checked the verification signatures on the submitted signatures and found 2,755 valid signatures, prior to the allegations by Anderson.
State code states the county clerk cannot certify signatures in a referendum packet if the signatures were not witnessed and verified as specified in state code.