SALT LAKE CITY — Former Utah Attorneys General John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff were charged Tuesday and arrested on allegations ranging from accepting bribes to destroying evidence.
Both were arrested at their Sandy homes by members of the FBI and the Utah Department of Public Safety and they arrived at the Salt Lake County Jail shortly after 8 a.m.
The state’s former top law enforcement officers were charged in 3rd District Court with pattern of unlawful activity, a second-degree felony; and three counts of receiving or soliciting bribes by a public official, a third-degree felony.
In addition, Shurtleff was charged with illegally accepting gifts or loans, a second-degree felony; and two counts of receiving bribes by a public official, a third- degree felony; witness tampering, a third-degree felony; tampering with evidence, a class A misdemeanor; and obstruction of justice, a class A misdemeanor.
Swallow was also charged with accepting a gift or loan when prohibited, a second-degree felony; giving false or inconsistent statements, a second-degree felony; three counts of evidence tampering, a third-degree felony; obstruction of justice, a third-degree felony; falsifying or altering government records, a class B misdemeanor; failing to disclose a conflict of interest, a class B misdemeanor; and misuse of public money, a third-degree felony.
While Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill called them “serious allegations,” he also called them the “appropriate minimal charges.”
“We could have filed more, but we have chosen instead to file what we have,” he said during a press conference at the FBI’s Salt Lake headquarters.
Gill also expressed his frustrations with the U.S. Department of Justice, which declined to file criminal charges last year.
“This case is not something we should be prosecuting as local prosecutors,” he said.
Shurtleff’s attorney, Max Wheeler, told KSL NewsRadio’s Doug Wright, however, that charges shouldn’t have been filed at all after the DOJ opted not to prosecute.
“There’s no new smoking gun, there’s no new charge that wasn’t previously investigated,” he said. “(Shurtleff) had sat down and talked to federal investigators a years ago about the very same matters. He thought he had given his explanations concerning the matters under investigation back then. He was obviously disappointed that Mr. Gill thought he knew better than the … justice department.”
Wheeler also expressed his disappointment with his client being arrested at his home in front of his family.
“Why arrest the man in front of their family and friends when you’re prepared to release them to Pre-Trial Services anyway?” he asked, referring to the agency that monitors criminal defendants upon release from jail. “This is not the normal procedure in a white collar crime case.”
Wheeler said Shurtleff is not a flight risk nor a danger to the public, so he should have been summoned to surrender on his own terms rather than have his arrest made into a public event.
“We’re grandstanding the whole thing. Now it’s a media circus,” he said. “There is absolutely no risk my client, or for that matter John Swallow, are going to abscond.”
Wheeler also reiterated that while his client “admits he did a lot of dumb things,” he steadfastly maintains his innocence and will not accept a plea deal.
“Mark is adamant that (the allegations) are untrue. He did not commit any crimes and I believe him based on my evaluation of the evidence.”
Despite the DOJ declining to file charges, FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Mary Rook said her office’s primary goal “is to pursue justice.
“The investigation of public corruption is one of the FBI’s highest priorities,” she said.
To date, 15 search warrants have been unsealed in the 18- month probe, including three earlier this week. The latest were served June 2 on the Sandy homes of Swallow and Shurtleff and the Salt Lake condominium of Renae Cowley, a former campaign staffer for the two Republicans who now works as a Salt Lake lobbyist.
Some of the allegations center on Swallow and Shurtleff’s relationships with Jeremy Johnson, a St. George businessman who is named in an 86-count federal indictment alleging fraud in connection with his online business, iWorks. The once-lucrative enterprise also is the subject of a Federal Trade Commission complaint.
Shurleff is accused of using Johnson’s private jet to fly to a fundraiser in California, and in another incident, using his plane to fly to New York to pick up actor Vincent D’Onofrio from the TV show “Law & Order,” according to court documents. Pictures of Johnson and Shurtleff sitting together in Johnson’s yellow Lamborghini are on the Internet, the affidavits state.
Swallow used Johnson’s luxury houseboat and Ferrari on several occasions while he was chief deputy in the attorney general’s office, the warrants state. At least one of Johnson’s houseboats was so large that it included a helicopter pad.
Investigators also are looking at the relationships Shurtleff and Swallow had with another wealthy businessman, Marc Sessions Jenson, and how the attorney general’s office handled his prosecution for securities fraud.
A report released earlier this year by Attorney General Sean Reyes described Shurtleff’s “unusual” involvement in Jenson’s case, which started after some investors, including a campaign contributor, alleged to Shurtleff that Jenson defrauded them. At the same time, Jenson and his associates gained access to Shurtleff by paying his self-described “fixer,” Tim Lawson, at least $114,300, according to the report.
Jenson claims Swallow and Shurtleff took him down during an all-expenses-paid visits to his Southern California villa. He also accused Swallow of securing a “quid pro quo” agreement from him for a $1 million lot in the planned members-only resort development known as Mount Holly.
Jenson is serving a 10-year prison term for failing to pay $4.1 million in restitution after pleading no contest to selling unregistered securities.
Additional information will be posted throughout the day.
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