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Petition alleges Attorney General John Swallow violated Utah election laws

Published: Friday, March 8 2013 6:10 a.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Several residents filed a petition with the state Thursday seeking the removal of Attorney General John Swallow for allegedly violating Utah election laws.

The 18-page petition accuses Swallow of filing misleading or false campaign declaration and disclosure forms regarding his personal business interests; conducting campaign activities from his state office during and after business hours; and putting campaign funds to personal use.

"I believe Utahns deserve an investigation. They deserve integrity in office, so it's important to find out if any wrongdoing was done and find the reasons behind the discrepancies," said Crystal Young-Otterstrom, an Alliance for a Better Utah member.

Young-Otterstrom, president of the LDS Dems caucus, and Maryann Martindale, the alliance's executive director, along with two attorneys, delivered the document alleging a total of 12 violations to Lt. Gov. Greg Bell's office at the Capitol. Bell is tasked with enforcing state election law and investigating alleged violations.

Swallow campaign adviser Jason Powers said Utahns for Ethical Government attorney David Irvine needs to do better research because a quick Internet search shows he identified the wrong John Swallow in two of the 12 allegations.

"Such carelessness is pervasive throughout this inaccurate and meritless complaint," Powers said in an email. "Nonetheless, the campaign will address any questions directed to it from the lieutenant governor's office."

In an earlier statement, Swallow said he has reported everything that is required under state law.

The petition comes as the FBI investigates Swallow's relationship with indicted St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson. Investigators also are looking into allegations that Swallow, a Republican, made campaign promises in exchange for donations.

Swallow also has come under fire over outside consulting work he did while serving as chief deputy attorney general.

The petition claims Swallow failed to disclose his interest in seven business entities and income from three, including RMR Consulting.

The late Richard M. Rawle set up the firm after Swallow introduced him to Johnson as someone who could help lobby the Federal Trade Commission on Johnson's behalf. The FTC was investigating Johnson's Internet marketing company in 2010.

Johnson claims Swallow helped arrange a deal to pay off a U.S. senator to thwart the investigation. Johnson and an associate paid Rawle $250,000.

In an affidavit before he died, Rawle said he paid lobbyists with a portion of the money and took $50,000 for his fee, part of which he used to pay "miscellaneous" expenses. One of those bills was from Swallow for consulting on a cement project Rawle had in Nevada.

Swallow later returned the check, which came from the RMR account, and asked that it come from another account. Rawle then paid Swallow $23,500 from another account, according to the affidavit.

Irvine said the payment should have appeared on Swallow's financial disclosure forms.

The petition was filed because he's not aware if any of the other inquiries or investigations are focused on alleged breaches of state election laws, said Irvine, a former GOP state legislator.

"They are a big deal," he said. "Either the law means something or it doesn't."

Irvine said it should take the lieutenant governor's office less than an hour to determine whether Swallow's disclosure forms are complete and accurate.

"This should not be a six-month undertaking," he said.

Republicans have been content to let the federal investigations run their course, and leaders reiterated that again Thursday.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said she and other lawmakers are too busy at this point to pay much attention to the Swallow controversy.

"We're not obsessing about it. We're concerned about it. We're watching to see the developments that are occurring, but we are busy doing the people's business and we will continue to do that," Lockhart said. 

Gov. Gary Herbert said he hopes the petition is not politically motivated.

"I am confident if they find any violations of federal or state law they will turn that over to appropriate authorities and we'll have some kind of resolution," Herbert said. "I know it's hard for people to be patient, and sometimes politics rears its ugly head and says, 'Well, we'll make some statement for political purposes.'"

Young-Otterstrom denied any political motivations.

"This is not a witch hunt," she said.

Martindale said Utahns don't have to wait on the federal investigation because state law provides civil remedies that can be pursued. 

"The citizens of this state can no longer afford to sit around, holding their collective breath, waiting for justice to be served," she said.

E-mail: romboy@deseretnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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