Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series of reports by award-winning investigative reporter Lynn Packer who covered, among other stories, the Mark Hofmann Bombings, the Bonneville Pacific Fraud, the Olympic Bribery Scandal, the Utah Highway Construction Bribery Scandal, and the Paul H. Dunn/Afco Fraud.
Last summer, while still Utah Attorney General, a red-faced and ecstatic Mark Shurtleff appeared in a promotional photograph for Salt Lake’s SoulPro sports fashions. Shurtleff’s friend and mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, Josh Burkman, had just won at the UCCU Event Center in Orem.
In the photograph, Shurtleff has his left arm around Tyler Thompson of Provo, who has multiple arrests and convictions for DUI offenses. Shurtleff’s other hand made a V-for-victory sign over Peter Couman, who has had multiple arrests for assault and drug possession.
The photo also shows one of Shurtleff’s closest political and business allies, Sovatphone (Sov) Ouk, and Ouk’s girl friend, Angie Santa Cruz (since deceased). At that time, Ouk and his telemarketing company, Global marketing Alliance, LLC, had been cited by Utah’s Division of Consumer Protection. (Three months after the photo was taken, Ouk reached an agreement reached with Utah regulators to step down as president, pay a $50,000 fine, wind down and then terminate the company.)
It’s not unusual for political candidates of either party to play the play guilt-by-association game with their opponents. Republicans hammered presidential hopeful Barrack Obama for his associations with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright and Professor Bill Ayers. The GOP’s slogan at time: “If you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas.” Today, the heated Virginia governor’s race prompted a polling expert to tell the Richmond Times-Dispatch that “guilt by association may not be fair, but it sure is politically powerful.” Democratic candidate Terry McAuliff is pointing to his opponent’s association with embattled Governor Bob McDonnell, who is under criminal investigation amid pay-to-play allegations. In turn, his Republican opponent Ken Cuccinelli is drawing attention to McAuliffe’s association with the failing, Chinese-funded GreenTech car project calling his opponent “three orders of magnitude below a corrupt used car salesman.”
But those examples are about associations the candidates had before they ran for office. Shurtleff, on the other hand, hung out with people—some suspected of bad behavior, others convicted of crimes—after he became the states’ top law enforcement officer.
His associations with Jeremy Johnson and Marc Jenson have been widely reported in the press, including his use of their property like rides in Lamborghinis and expensive all-expenses-paid vacations to luxury resorts. Less so his associations in connection with Utahns connected to MMA cage fighting. At the center of his and his friend’s interest in ultimate fighting is Utah’s Josh Burkman.
Josh Burkman, 33, is an articulate, almost soft-spoken, but fierce MMA fighter who starred in baseball, wrestling and football for Utah’s Cottonwood High School. As a half back for Dixie State College, he was an All-American and was recruited by the University of Utah. Instead, he went into mixed martial arts where he has become a star.
“His next quest is to become Governor Josh Burkman of Utah,” his website says. “I’ve got my slogan for 2024: Tough times call for tough people. Vote for Josh Burkman.”
Burkman has a political ally in Mark Shurtleff, someone who could show him the ropes should Burkman actually run. Shurtleff and a circle of friends hover near Burkman, offering moral and financial support for his fighting career.
Burkman gives a lot of credit to Sov Ouk and Global Marketing. “Sov gave me an opportunity that not many fighters get,” Burkman said in an interview for an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) profile. “The chance to pursue my dream to make it to the UFC without having outside distractions, nothing was required from me he just gave me the opportunity and he believed in me.”
Last summer Sports Illustrated interviewed Burkman prior to his decisive and dramatic win in Las Vegas. Burkman beat then choked his opponent into unconsciousness in just 41 seconds to rack up his fifth win in a row.
“People don’t believe me when I tell them that I’d probably been in about 200 street fights before I even got into MMA,” he told Sports Illustrated. The magazine reported that in 2004, Burkman flunked a drug test when he tried out for a ultimate fighter reality TV show. “It might have been for marijuana. It might have been for steroids, or both,” he told SI. “I’d told a guy at the gym that I was going to be fighting bigger guys and I was out of shape. Basically, I was trying to cheat, just trying to get through it all.”
At that point Burkman seemed to rediscover his Mormon faith and healthy living.
“It was embarrassing and it was a bad thing, but it was one of best things to happen to me,” Burkman told Sports Illustrated about flunking the drug test. “It made me start to live somewhat of a healthier lifestyle, looking at my diet and starting to do things the right way.”
Utah’s top ultimate fighter has also had brushes with the law. In 2010, he was convicted of driving on a suspend license. Last year, he was arrested in Salt Lake on a charge he had deserted the US Army in about 1999 after serving for seven months. He told the arresting officer it was a misunderstanding on the Army’s part, but he was returned to Fort Sill, Oklahoma where he was discharged. The Army won’t say whether it was a dishonorable discharge, and Burkman is not responding to phone messages.
Harry O’s Night Club
Also in the circle of Burkman supporters are three men associated with the now-defunct Harry O’s night club in Park City: Dimitrios Deslis, his brother Konstantine (aka Kosta) and Peter Couman. Burkman was said to have worked as a bouncer at Harry O’s and, after he gained fame as an MMA fighter hosted one of its Saturday Night Live events in 2010.
Dimitrios Deslis has since left the night club business for ultimate fighting. He’s now vice president of business development for Las Vegas-based World Series of Fighting. His brother, Kosta, also went to Nevada but stayed in the night club business. He’s the senior marketing manager for the Angel Marketing Group which does work for the MGM Grand Hotel.
Couman is the Deslis brothers’ cousin and has, among others, a business tie to Sov Ouk. Couman and Ouk formed the Utah company Spoc LLC. Both decline to explain what type of business Spoc conducts.
Couman and his cousins have a long list of arrests among them, including public intoxication, assault, and witness tampering. During the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, a major case was brought against them, involving an incident that occurred at Harry O’s on the last day of the festival that year. The matter involved a beating that was investigated by Park City police and, according to a federal court record, the FBI. The story is detailed in police records and a lawsuit that was pursed in Utah’s federal court.
The federal civil case was brought on behalf of the alleged assault victim, Timothy Reynders of Palo Alto, California. The case, eventually settled out of court with an accompanying confidentiality agreement, accused Peter Couman and Dimitrtios Deslis with fraud, racketeering, false imprisonment, extortion and assault. The police report says Kosta Delis was also involved but he was not named in the civil suit.
Reynder’s company had sought a contract with Harry O’s to manage sponsorships and co-produce events at the night club during the Sundance Film Festival. His company, Entyce Group, LLC of Nevada, was to pay a fee in exchange for managing events, such as Snoop Dog and Robin Thicke concerts, and sharing in ticket sales. It was a complex arrangement, and as the film festival wound down each side accused the other of breaching the contract.
Witnesses agree that the last night of the festival, Couman, along with Deslis’s security guards, took Reynders to Harry O’s basement and locked the door to the room behind them. Reynders’ lawsuit explains what happened next from his perspective: Couman demanded that Reynders pay several hundred thousand dollars. According to the complaint, Couman grabbed then choked Reynders, punched him in the head, threw him against a brick wall, then kicked Reynders, the alleged victim losing consciousness during the encounter.
Reynders was freed after police responded to a 911 call. No arrests were made, but the matter was investigated by a Park City detective who concluded crimes had been committed and should be prosecuted. The case was referred to the Summit County Attorney, who declined to prosecute. Park City police also believed money skimming was going on at Harry O’s, suspecting mangers of pocketing cash off the books. The matter was referred to a state agency but not pursued.
Two years later, after Harry O’s continued to be a magnet for arrests involving rowdy behavior, the owner of the Memorial Building, which housed the club, changed the locks under what the local paper called “police protection.” The Park City Record ,in its April 29, 2011 edition, said a crowd of onlookers watched “as the future of Main Street’s biggest, most raucous nightclub was put in doubt.”
The paper wrote that Konstantine Deslis, the club’s manager at the scene, accused building co-owners Kenny Griswold and his wife of interfering with the business. Griswold and his wife owned an interest in the building and Harry O’s.
Another one of those charged in the Harry O’s-related assault civil suit was Hollywood film director and actor Mars Callahan. Six years earlier, Callahan had directed the movie Poolhall Junkies which was shot in Salt Lake City. The film had big-name stars like Rod Steiger, Christopher Walken and Mormon actor Ricky Schroeder. Clint Eastwood’s daughter Alison had a minor role, as did Harry O’s Dimitrios Deslis.
The $4 million film did not enjoy critical acclaim, the worst review coming from The Deseret News. “Poolhall Junkies” is the cinematic equivalent of a train wreck. As much as you’d like to turn away from this complete and total misfire, you can’t take your eyes off it,” wrote critic Jeff Vice.
Footnote: Buoyed by his dramatic win in Las Vegas, Burkman will meet Steve Carl for the World Series of Fighting’s 170-pound title in the main event in October in Florida. Shurtleff declined comment for this report, and isn’t saying whether he’ll be there along with the rest of Burkman’s circle of supporters.
Next week: Guilt by Association Part II: Did any of Shurtleff’s circle of friends’ partying and drinking habits rub off on him? Or is it possible to lie down with dogs and not get fleas?