Four defendants who Utah County prosecutors say organized and promoted a Halloween dance party near Utah Lake that violated state COVID-19 guidelines have pleaded guilty.

Branden Estrada, of Sandy, pleaded guilty in Utah County Justice Court on Monday to disobeying public health laws, a class B misdemeanor. Estrada was ordered to pay a $500 fine and to obey all laws and have no further violations for the next 12 months as part of a plea in abeyance.

Erik Little, of Sandy, and Tanner Valerio, of Bluffdale, also pleaded guilty and accepted similar deals on May 24, as did Andrew Ivie, of Midway, on May 17. Little and Valerio initially pleaded not guilty on Feb. 9.

The four defendants are among nine who the Utah County Attorney’s Office filed criminal charges against on Feb. 8 for their alleged roles in organizing and promoting an outdoor party near Utah Lake in October 2020 that was advertised as the “biggest party in Utah this year.”

The party took place as a surge in coronavirus cases hit Utah County and as state and county officials pleaded with residents to follow social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines.

According to prosecutors, a review of social media posts “shows that there were thousands of people in attendance, who were not wearing masks, and who were not physically distancing.”

The charges against Sadie Salisbury, of Draper, Talifolaukovi Foliaki, of Pleasant Grove, James McReynolds, of Lindon, and Daniel Mortensen, of Eden, were dismissed without prejudice on April 19.

The final defendant, Samuel Nii, pleaded not guilty on May 17. Nii has a pretrial conference scheduled for July 12.

In addition to the criminal charges, the Utah County Health Department levied $10,000 fines against Nii, Estrada, Little and Valerio, as well as the Provo-based event companies The Tribe Utah and Young/Dumb.

Little and Valerio, co-owners of The Tribe Utah, advertised the party on social media, while Nii, co-founder of Young/Dumb, promoted the party on his private account, according to charging documents. Estrada was identified through social media posts as one of the DJs for the event, and Ivie was observed working with equipment on stage.

When he announced the criminal charges earlier this year, Utah County Attorney David Leavitt criticized event businesses “who profit from gathering people during a pandemic for the purpose of protesting the pandemic and for the purpose of maintaining their rights of free speech, all the while endangering not only those who were there, but countless other people who will never know that they were infected from COVID because of an event.

“And so, philosophically, while I understand the absolute right that we as Americans have to gather with each other, and also to be involved in a society where we don’t have to have masks, I also understand that we’re in the middle of a pandemic that requires that we take safety measures and that we take precautions,” the county attorney said.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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