A new report claims that a former escort service owner has admitted to hiring a former alternative weekly newspaper reporter-turned private investigator to probe the private life of Salt Lake County District Attorney Lohra Miller.

The report says that the private investigator, Shane Johnson, who worked at City Weekly as recently as 2006, tailed Miller for months at the behest of Steve Maese, the former co-owner of an escort service named the Doll House.

Maese is scheduled to go on trial this summer for several counts of exploiting a prostitute, money laundering and racketeering.

He believes Miller is out to get him. He's quoted in City Weekly saying his prosecution started out as a personal vendetta by Miller to bolster her weak felony prosecution record. During her 2006 campaign, critics highlighted the fact she never prosecuted a felony.

"I turned the tables on her," City Weekly quoted Maese as saying, referring to the private investigation. Maese refused to confirm the report to the Deseret News.

Miller declined to comment, saying department policy prevents her from commenting on any case that is still ongoing.

In November 2007, Maese hired Rudiger Investigations, a private investigation firm where Johnson is an agent. In its story, City Weekly did not indicate that its former employee was one of the investigators.

Johnson wrote several stories about Miller in the City Weekly during the 2006 district attorney's race. Johnson unearthed allegations of illegal proxy campaign contributions from employees of developer Dell Loy Hansen.

Later, Johnson and Maese worked together to dig up information about the police chief who headed the probe into Maese's former escort service. Documents obtained by the Deseret News through public-records requests show that Johnson, who spent weeks casing Miller's home and following her to private clubs, jointly obtained audio recordings of a City Council meeting with Maese.

The May 2007 City Council meeting included a presentation by Lt. Robby Russo about a controversial move to use sheriff's deputies to provide security at a golf tournament. At the time, Russo was the highest ranked officer over Cottonwood Heights for the sheriff's office, and he now serves as chief of the city's new police force.

Todd Gabler, Johnson's boss, recently revealed that his firm tailed Miller's vehicles, rifled through her trash, videotaped her home and placed a GPS tracking device on her car — all actions Gabler insists are legal and in no way an invasion of the district attorney's privacy.

Gabler wouldn't confirm that Johnson works for him — "That information would be considered proprietary," he said — but documents obtained by the newspaper show that Johnson was the investigator who cased Miller's home and followed her cars in December 2007 and January 2008 and filed a report under the letterhead of Rudiger Investigations, a company that Gabler is listed as the registered agent with for the Utah Department of Commerce.

Johnson didn't return repeated phone calls, and Maese declined to explain his relationship with Johnson.

Miller started going after Maese even before she was elected.

As a city prosecutor, Miller signed the arrest warrant and rode along with police as they raided the Doll House in 2006. The warrant was to bolster a business license case but quickly morphed into a felony prosecution case.

The case is scheduled to finally go to trial in July.

The case has caused its casualties in the district attorney's office.

Kent Morgan, a respected 24-year veteran of the office, was fired in March after Miller accused him of leaking confidential information to Maese about his case.

Maese apparently made a statement to police in 2006 that made them believe he knew information only prosecutors involved in screening the case would have known, according to Morgan's termination letter. The letter does not specify what information Maese supposedly knew that only prosecutors would have known.

According to an October 2006 police report obtained by the Deseret News through a public-records request, Maese told police that he knew at least one deputy district attorney had problems with the warrant served on the Doll House, the escort service Maese used to co-own.

"Steve said that he had heard that Howie (Howard Lemcke, deputy district attorney) had problems with the warrant" and that there was not enough probable cause.

Maese declined comment on the police report.

Miller is using phone records to prove Morgan was a little too chatty with Maese. She already has a copy of his business line and work cell phone records and has asked for a subpoena to see his home phone records.

The Deseret News inspected Morgan's business cell and land lines and found Morgan had a lot of phone contact with Maese, with more than 130 telephone calls between them in a 21-month span. The newspaper obtained Morgan's phone records through the Government Records Access and Management Act.

The records show the pair spoke for 17 minutes the day after Maese was charged with the prostitution and racketeering counts, and the two talked for another 20 minutes the day of Maese's roll-call hearing.

Most of the calls came during Morgan's unsuccessful run for district attorney, which he lost to Miller during the 2006 Republican convention. Morgan tapped Maese's marketing background to help him in his campaign.

After he lost, the friendship continued. But both Maese and Morgan insist no top-secret information about Maese's case was revealed.

They are friends who enjoy talking about politics, nothing more, they say.

But Morgan allegedly told Miller that he did provide some advice about Maese's prosecution, according to another document filed with the Salt Lake County Career Service Council. That document alleges Morgan helped Maese pick his legal counsel and that Maese called him after court appearances.

Morgan never disclosed his relationship with Maese to anyone in the District Attorney's Office.

He has appealed his termination and is scheduled to have a 5-day hearing before the Salt Lake County Career Service Council in August to plead his case.

Maese doesn't like Miller much. Although he refused to comment to the Deseret News on the matter, he told a detective with the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office his true feelings.

"Steve continued to speak stating that Lohra was an idiot and that this was a personal thing against him ... ," detective Dan Bartlett wrote in a police report obtained by the Deseret News.


E-mail: ldethman@desnews.com