Donations, actions raise more questions about Swallow's judgment

Published: Saturday, Feb. 9 2013 9:45 p.m. MST

"Absolutely not," Pelo said. "He wouldn't do that for me."

Hansen said Swallow has a trusting nature and a desire to help people "without necessarily always looking down the road and saying, 'If I have that meeting with that person, this could come out or it could look like this.'"

More questions

Some of Swallow's campaign contributions and other political encounters last year could also cause observers to question his judgment.

On April 7, 2012 — three weeks before Johnson secretly recorded Swallow in the Orem doughnut shop — Swallow was surreptitiously recorded talking to a Utah telemarketer.

"When I'm attorney general, this is kind of confidential, I'm going to try to restructure it so that consumer protection is under the A.G. and the A.G. has more authority over those investigations, in fact, complete authority over that," Swallow told Aaron Christner in a recording posted on the City Weekly website.

Christner had run-ins with the state Division of Consumer Protection and appeared on its "Buyer Beware List" linked to three companies fined for soliciting customers without being registered.

Swallow also said in the recording that "Utah is so dysfunctional right now — the client is the Department of Commerce and Consumer Protection and that is not someone we can control or even influence greatly. It's because they work for the governor's office right now."

City Weekly reported that Christner mentioned an upcoming fundraising event for Swallow in their conversation, but that exchange was not part of the posted recording.

Campaign finance records don't show a contribution from Christner.

Swallow said during the campaign that he would explore moving the Consumer Protection Division to the attorney general's office. But attorney general's office spokesman Paul Murphy said that is a dead issue since Gov. Gary Herbert made it clear that consumer protection should remain in the commerce department.

"I hope lessons have been learned," Giani said. The department, she added, will continue to conduct investigations as it has in the past "regardless of who's giving money to our attorneys."

Swallow did receive campaign funds from a telemarketing company founded in Utah that the FTC charged in January with bilking more than $200 million from consumers.

Federal regulators allege The Tax Club deceived customers into believing its services would help their Internet or home-based businesses succeed. The company sold products and services such as tax return preparation, business plans and credit development services, most of which the FTC says were boilerplate documents.

The Tax Club began in Utah in 2008 and expanded to comprise at least 12 entities doing business under a dozen names. It operated out the 60th floor of the Empire State Building in New York City.

The company and its affiliates were generous donors to Shurtleff, giving at least $104,000 to his campaign fund since 2008, state financial disclosure reports show. They contributed at least $7,500 to Swallow last year.

Houseboat

In the secretly recorded conversation with Johnson, Swallow worried whether investigators were aware of his using Johnson's houseboat on Lake Powell.

"Do they know about the houseboat?" Swallow asks in the April 30, 2012, meeting. "Is there any paper trail on that?"

"There’s no paper trail on the houseboat. Nobody knows about it," Johnson assures him.

"No emails on the thing, and, no, my wife doesn’t even know you were on there," Johnson said. "You went down there for a weekend and that's it."

Swallow has acknowledged using Peps I, a 75-foot-long houseboat with several cabins, a home theater and a helipad. The government has since seized the boat and put it up for sale.

Johnson said he doesn't know why Swallow brought that up during the meeting or why he sounded nervous about using it. Johnson said he let many people use his houseboat.

"Nothing was expected from letting him use it. It was no special deal," Johnson said.

Swallow, who turned 50 last November, was scheduled to go on a cruise with Pelo, another friend and their wives last month to celebrate their 50th birthdays together. But Swallow stayed behind, Pelo said, to "remain attentive to the affairs of the day."

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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