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Sheriff declines to resign after demands from attorney

By Kelcie Hartley - | Jun 1, 2022

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Utah County Attorney David Leavitt speaks during a press conference at his office in Provo on Wednesday, June 1, 2022.

Utah County Attorney David Leavitt formally called for the resignation of Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

Just hours after Leavitt’s press conference, Smith held his own conference to give a response and share his viewpoint on recent events — while adding that he will not be resigning.

Leavitt began by providing background information to connect two separate cases together. The first involved Nicholas Rossi, who Leavitt is prosecuting for allegedly raping a female in Orem in 2008. Leavitt said in this case, the victim’s rape kit exam went untested until he took office in 2019. During Leavitt’s investigation, Rossi was found in a hospital in Scotland and was arrested in January.

“Rossi’s mode of operation was to take on people who refuse him, threaten him or in any way stand in his way with violent crimes like blackmail and extortion,” said Leavitt. “There is a lengthy history of Rossi doing that. Now, he’s engaged in that process with me and my wife. He’s making all sorts of allegations that are groundless in an effort to shift the attention from his alleged crimes in Utah to something that’s a complete farce.”

Leavitt’s second case involved allegations from a “mentally ill” woman against her therapist father and 15 to 20 other individuals who were all allegedly involved in “cannibalizing young children and murdering them,” he said.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith speaks during a press conference at his office in Spanish Fork on Wednesday, June 1, 2022.

These allegations align with Tuesday’s UCSO release stating an investigation about ritualistic child sexual abuse and sex trafficking is occurring within the county, and that some of the allegations have been confirmed. Smith, during his press conference, repeated that there have been over 20 allegations of the sort.

Leavitt told the news media that this particular case wasn’t investigated, and was ultimately dropped by the attorney’s office 12 years ago.

“That allegation from that mentally ill woman was so outlandish that our own special victim’s task force that investigates these finds of crimes, refused to even interview any of the 15 to 20 people who were alleged,” said Leavitt. “The case resulted in criminal charges against one individual, the girl’s father. And my predecessor, dismissed that case because the evidence was so outlandish and unbelievable.”

According to Leavitt, he was given a copy of a witness statement of the woman and discovered that he and his wife were a part of the alleged allegations.

“This morning at 3:30 a.m., Rossi, posing as Arthur Knight, posted to the internet allegations that I am a suspect along with my wife in this crime,” Leavitt said. “It does nothing but demean the integrity of me, my wife and 15 or 20 other people in the community who had absolutely nothing to do with a discredited case.”

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Utah County Attorney David Leavitt speaks during a press conference at his office in Provo on Wednesday, June 1, 2022.

In Rossi’s video, he alleges that his source is Sgt. Spencer Cannon of the Utah County Sheriff’s Office — a claim vehemently denied by Smith and Cannon.

Leavitt claimed that the two are connected through timing, that ballots will be mailed to voters in the coming days for an election for Utah County Attorney where Leavitt is challenged by two other candidates. One of the other candidates, Jeff Gray, has been endorsed by Smith.

Leavitt also questioned how Rossi produced the 150-page document of victim testimonies and suspected Smith’s office to be involved.

“That this all occurs less than one week before ballots drop in an election in which I am participating, causes me tremendous concern over the credibility, actions and connections between a convicted sex offender and the Utah County Sheriff,” Leavitt said. “I am calling upon Sheriff Mike Smith to open his office for an outside investigation where outside independent investigators are able to confirm or deny that documents from debunked investigation from over a decade ago were or were not used for political purposes in the Utah County Attorney’s race.”

Leavitt challenged Smith to open his office for investigation, suspend Cannon pending the investigation and resign if his office is proven to be involved in political purposes. Later, at Smith’s press conference, he announced he wouldn’t be resigning, nor would Cannon be punished.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith speaks during a press conference at his office in Spanish Fork on Wednesday, June 1, 2022.

“This office has released no documents,” Smith said. “Nothing has come out of the sheriff’s office.”

Smith also took offense to Leavitt’s label of the female victim as “mentally ill.”

“I take exception from any victim who comes forward and is characterized as ‘tragically mentally ill,'” Smith said. “How dare you. They should not be shamed or intimidated for having the courage to come forward.”

Smith added that Cannon didn’t discuss names of the victims with Rossi, though he and Rossi have spoken by phone.

Smith said this investigation began approximately a year ago, when victims of crimes similar to the ones described by Leavitt came forward with their stories, and supporting evidence was found. He also clarified his entire investigation goes beyond one victim’s accusations regarding the 15 to 20 individuals, Leavitt and his wife included.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

The Utah County Attorney's Office logo is shown behind David Leavitt during a press conference at his office in Provo on Wednesday, June 1, 2022.

“I believe that Leavitt is using his authority and his pull to bully, distract and mischaracterize the facts of the investigation,” Smith said.

He added that several agencies are working on this investigation, including the FBI, and he is certain they will find those responsible.

Smith clarified the purpose of the investigation by saying its focus is on child sexual abuse and not cannibalism and murder like Leavitt described. He refused to give further information regarding the investigation, and said that Leavitt already gave more information than he would have.

The sheriff’s office had not reached out to Leavitt’s office for assistance with the child sexual abuse investigation, according to Smith.

He ended with stating the investigation is still going to happen, and the Sheriff’s Office will continue to investigate any and all allegations.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

The Utah County Sheriff's Office logo is shown behind Sheriff Mike Smith during a press conference at his office in Spanish Fork on Wednesday, June 1, 2022.

“We won’t be intimidated by Leavitt,” Smith said.

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