Court documents show a former bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wants to withdraw his guilty plea of sexually abusing an undercover police officer five months ago.
Officers arrested Lehi resident David Moss, 52, as part of an undercover operation into human trafficking in February.
He was initially charged with forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony, as well as a third-degree felony of exploiting a prostitute and two misdemeanor counts of patronizing a prostitute and lewdness.
In June, he later accepted a plea deal and pleaded guilty to a third-degree felony of exploiting a prostitute and a class A misdemeanor of sexual battery.
But two weeks ago, Moss submitted a motion to withdraw the plea to sexual battery and claimed he didn’t understand the factual basis of the charge.
“He was improperly induced the ‘plea bargaining pressure’ of the moment,” the motion states.
At the arraignment, the defense attorney argued because Moss did not inappropriately touch the women before his arrest, his actions did not meet the definition of “sexual battery.”
Prosecutors explained that Moss gave a hug to the officer during the undercover operation, and Moss decided to plead no contest to the misdemeanor charge.
“Immediately after the hearing, defendant realized that he had pleaded guilty to a crime he did not commit,” the motion states. “Until he was at the podium, he did not understand the state’s position that a hug was a factual basis for a charge of sexual battery. His plea, therefore, was not done knowingly.”
In a motion filed Monday, prosecutors argue the only reason Moss wants to withdraw his plea is to avoid serving jail time.
Moss previously worked as a lieutenant with the St. George Police Department and the motion states he should have known the consequences of pleading guilty.
“For this specific defendant to argue that he had an incomplete understanding of the charge of sexual battery is particularly ironic,” according to the motion. “The Defendant is intimately aware of the elements of the crime of sexual battery and agreed to enter a plea to that charge after having had the advice and assistance of counsel.”
The third-degree felony carries a sentence of zero to five years in prison and the sentence for the class A misdemeanor is up to a year in jail. Court documents report the plea deal did not guarantee a specific sentence.
According to the court motion, the defense attorney sent several emails to prosecutors expressing concern about the jail sentence.
“These communications do not suggest a concern that the Defendant didn’t know or understand the nature of the charges against him, only that the Defendant, having entered a plea is worried that he will be sentenced to jail and seeks now to avoid that penalty,” the motion states.
Moss was serving as a bishop of the Mill Pond Ward in Lehi at the time he reportedly sent a text message with a person he believed to be a prostitute, charges state.
He arranged to meet with the alleged prostitute, who was actually an undercover officer, and offered to pay cash for sexual activity. He also reportedly offered to be a prostitution manager for the agent in exchange for a cut of her profits.
Charges state he also promised to provide protection for her, ensure she had regular, high-paying customers and teach her how to avoid being arrested.
Moss reportedly met with two undercover officers at a Lehi hotel room and again offered services as a manager. Investigators said he grabbed the officer’s hand and placed it over his clothes on his genitalia to demonstrate how to detect if someone is a police officer.
“Eventually, the defendant focused on engaging in sexual acts, for which he again stated he was willing to pay,” charges reported.
He exposed himself to both women and tried to have the undercover officer touch him inappropriately to prove she was not with the police, charges state.
Moss was released from the Utah County Jail on bail and has since been released from his position in the LDS Church.
A 4th District Court judge will need to decide whether or not to uphold the motion to withdraw the plea before the sentencing scheduled on Aug. 20.