Judge cites Zufelt’s deception throughout case for tough sentence
A Delta business owner was sentenced last week for his role in last year’s theft of $600,000 cash from a California couple who had relocated to Millard County.
Travis Zufelt, owner of Trav’z Tire & Repair, was sentenced to up to 25 years in state prison by Fourth District Court Judge Anthony Howell. Zufelt and his defense attorney, St. George lawyer Doug Terry, opened last Wednesday’s sentencing hearing with a plea for probation.
Terry argued that Zufelt had no criminal record and wanted to stay out of prison in order to better facilitate the liquidation of his business assets in order to pay restitution to the victims.
Prosecutor Patrick Finlinson sought a departure from the usual sentencing guidelines— punishment for property crimes in Utah is astonishingly light—arguing that Zufelt’s continuous lying in the case and failure to return the stolen cash despite being found guilty by a jury in August are aggravating circumstances.
Finlinson said he lamented seeking a prison term because such punishment also punishes a defendant’s loved ones. But he said Zufelt left little choice in the matter. Not only did he attempt on numerous occasions to obstruct the theft investigation, but was also repeatedly recorded during jailhouse phone calls to loved ones maintaining his innocence despite a mountain of evidence and conviction by the jury at trial.
Finlinson predicted that Zufelt’s pride prevented him from simply owning up to his role in the crime. In fact, Finlinson said had Zufelt simply come clean earlier with detectives and the prosecutor, he probably would have avoided any significant prison time at all.
When it was his turn to speak, Zufelt admitted his role in the crime, but also downplayed it, explaining that he was “hounded” by his co-conspirator in the crime, Chane Harris, who pleaded guilty ahead of his own trial in April and is already out of jail after spending about a year there. Harris eventually agreed to testify against Zufelt.
Zufelt acknowledged that he left a door unlocked at his tire shop that allowed Harris in while he and Brad Godfrey visited a local hardware store. Godfrey had brought his vehicle into Zufelt’s shop that day in Aug. 2020 for repairs and later discovered his spare tire missing—the tire held the $600,000 in cash. Godfrey had weeks earlier sought Zufelt’s help in breaking the seal on the tire in order to withdraw $10,000, which is how Zufelt knew of the large amount of cash and its location.
During the sentencing hearing, Zufelt profusely apologized several times directly to Godfrey, who sat with his wife Mara in the back of the courtroom. Zufelt said he’d “happily” sell his business in order to “make the victims whole.”
At an earlier restitution hearing, Zufelt and Harris were both ordered to repay $356,000 to Godfrey and his wife, the money still missing after police were able to earlier recover $244,000 in cash, silver and a Harley Davidson motorcycle purchased with the stolen loot.
Finlinson told the court Godfrey and his wife would seek civil court remedies to recover their cash, now that the criminal portion of their ordeal is over.
When it was the judge’s turn to speak, he didn’t mince words.
Though Howell admitted his job carried a heavy burden, he cited Zufelt’s recalcitrance and failure to take full responsibility as weighing on his decision.
“You have lied about every facet of this case from Day 1,” the judge told Zufelt, adding later that, “This was not a crime of impulse—this was money you stole from a man and woman you befriended.”
The judge said he had no faith that Zufelt would make good on the court’s restitution order— Howell admitted the state’s restitution rules call into doubt whether such orders have any teeth to them whatsoever.
“I have no evidence to believe you will do that,” Howell said in response to Zufelt promising to make quick work of restitution.
Finally, the judge levied his sentence, handing down 1-15 years for a single second-degree felony count of theft and up to 5 years each on three counts of third-degree felony obstruction of justice. The court ordered two of the obstruction counts to run concurrently (at the same time), but ordered the theft sentence and remainder of the obstruction counts to run consecutively (one after the other).
Howell cited three aggravating circumstances in his sentencing decision, including that the theft clearly took some planning on Zufelt’s part.
Separately, Finlinson asked the court to drop unrelated misdemeanor drug charges that were filed against Zufelt earlier this year but that had not yet been adjudicated. The judge agreed to dismiss those charges.