Unraveling Shurtleff and Swallow's complicated relationship with a felon

Published: Sunday, June 9 2013 2:54 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Marc Jenson sat at a posh Newport Beach resort sipping water with then-Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and future Attorney General John Swallow in the spring of 2009.

Jenson poured his from a pitcher the staff had brought the men while they lounged in the well-appointed Pelican Hill clubhouse. But Shurtleff and Swallow didn't want that water. They drank $8 bottled water — on Jenson's dime.

Though a small thing, Jenson, whom the attorney general's office had prosecuted for selling unregistered securities a year earlier, said it bugged him. Worse, he said, it was indicative of how Shurtleff and Swallow treated him on two visits to the luxury resort for which he says he played the reluctant host and paid their expenses.

"It is symbolic," Jenson said in an interview at the Utah State Prison. "They felt like they owned me."

How Shurtleff and Swallow came to spend time with Jenson in Southern California in the spring of 2009 is part of a long and winding story that goes back nearly a decade.

Now, Swallow sits in the seat Shurtleff occupied for 12 years, under fire as Utah's top cop, while Shurtleff a little more than a week ago quit his job at the international law firm where he had worked since leaving office in January. And both men are subjects of wide-ranging federal and local investigations, tied in part to their relationship with Jenson and his account of their visits to the Pelican Hill resort.

Complicated relationship

The controversy surrounding Shurtleff and Swallow centers on money, with allegations of influence peddling serving as a backdrop to the investigations now underway — impropriety that both Shurtleff and Swallow have each denied.

In 2004 and 2005, Amy White, wife of Utah businessman Ricke White, gave Shurtleff $6,500 in campaign donations, including $1,500 that was given when Shurtleff wasn't running for re-election. Ricke White was among the investors in Jenson's "hard-money lending" operation in which he told the investors their money would be used for short-term, high-interest loans to entrepreneurs in need of cash while they worked out long-term financing. Upon repayment of the short-term loans, the investors would make money.

But the investors said they were not repaid and that Jenson tried to get them to settle for much less than they invested or threatened to give them nothing at all. They also said he never told them before they invested that he had been in federal prison in 1992 for bank fraud.

White and other investors took their concerns to Shurtleff seeking help, claiming millions of dollars in losses. The attorney general's office investigated Jenson and he was charged in 2005 with selling unregistered securities, securities fraud and pattern of unlawful activity.

Allegations of questionable campaign donations, attempted bribery of prosecutors, political pressure and threats swirled around Jenson's criminal case from the outset, according to a May 2008 Deseret News story.

Shurtleff was at the center of the storm.

Shurtleff said at the time that meeting with people who want his office to take legal action is common. In the Jenson case, he said he listened to the allegations and then had the businessmen talk to prosecutors on his staff and that they decided to file charges.

Jenson's defense attorneys raised the possibility that Shurtleff filed the charges as a favor to a campaign donor who also was a victim in the case. Conversely, victims wondered if Shurtleff gave into political pressure to allow Jenson a plea deal that one of the attorney general's own prosecutors said "does not serve all the interests of justice" and that a judge rejected.

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