Pressure grows on AG Swallow as allegations fly

Published: Thursday, May 9 2013 7:35 p.m. MDT

Utah Attorney General John Swallow speaks out Jan. 14, 2013 in his office at the state Capitol about allegations that he was involved in improper deals.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A businessman in prison for swindling millions of dollars from investors has told the FBI that Utah Attorney General John Swallow and his predecessor were his unwanted guests at a posh Newport Beach resort where he says he paid for everything from luxury lodging to massages.

Marc Sessions Jenson said he twice spoke for hours to federal agents as part of an ongoing investigation into Swallow's dealings that now appears to include former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

Jenson, 53, discussed some of those things in an interview Wednesday at the Utah State Prison saying, "This is the very tippy top of the iceberg."

Jenson's claims have prompted the Utah Democratic Party to call for Gov. Gary Herbert to appoint a state special prosecutor to investigate the numerous allegations leveled against Swallow since he took office in January.

The latest accusations also could help fuel a state senator's effort to consider having the attorney general an appointed rather than an elected position.

Shurtleff was the attorney general and Swallow was his lead fundraiser when they made two trips to the pricey Pelican Hill resort where Jenson lived in May and June 2009. Swallow made a third trip with his wife later that year. Shurtleff appointed Swallow, who was a private attorney at the time of the trips, as his chief deputy in December 2009.

Months earlier, the attorney general's office had prosecuted Jenson for selling unregulated securities. He and prosecutors agreed to a plea in abeyance in which he would serve no jail time but repay investors $4.1 million. When Jenson failed to pay the restitution, a 3rd District judge sentenced him to up to 10 years in prison.

Now 21 months into that sentence, Jenson said Shurtleff and Swallow arranged through a mutual associate to spend a few days at a gated Newport Beach villa. Jenson and his attorney, Helen Redd, said they have receipts showing Jenson covered all the expenses including airfare, lodging, food, entertainment, massages, golf and items from the pro shop, totaling tens of thousands of dollars.

Jenson said he was "uncomfortable" hosting Shurtleff and Swallow but that they wanted to meet some of his influential friends in hopes of raising campaign funds. Jenson said even though he had already entered his plea in abeyance, he agreed to the trips because he thought it could help him in the future.

"It was my way of avoiding what looked like a big bullet coming my way. They wanted to come. They brought it up, not me," Jenson said.

Their mantra, he said, was "if you had donated to the campaign and we would know who you are and none of this would have happened."

Jenson said Swallow told him that Shurtleff was about to appoint him as chief deputy attorney general and that he was Shurtleff's heir apparent.

"He may have been a private attorney but he sure acted like he was associated with the attorney general's office," Jenson said.

Swallow's spokesman Paul Murphy issued a statement Swallow first met Jenson while coaching Jenson's nephew in Little League baseball. Their interactions occurred when Swallow was in private practice before he joined the attorney general's office.

Swallow never promised to help Jenson if he breached his plea arrangement and he was never retained as his attorney, according to the statement.

Murphy said Swallow walled himself off of the Jenson investigation and prosecution in June 2011 and that the attorney general's office is aggressively prosecuting Jenson on additional felony charges.

Shurtleff, who now works for the international law firm Troutman Sanders, did not return an email seeking comment. But he denied Jenson's allegations Thursday in a Salt Lake Tribune story.

"I was responsible for the investigation, conviction and sentencing of Jenson," he told the Tribune. "He has sworn revenge. I suggest you consider carefully whether to believe a desperate, convicted fraudster."

Jenson said he's talking publicly now because he has "insightful and important" things to say about how Shurtleff and Swallow conduct business. He also said the federal agents indicated the investigation goes deeper than the two Republicans but would not elaborate.

Jenson's attorney confirmed his client has met with the FBI. Redd said the FBI didn't promise Jenson anything in return for the information he provided. But "we're confident when all this comes out it will be most helpful to Marc."

A cloud has hung over Swallow since he took office in early January, starting with his relationship with indicted St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson, who claims Swallow helped broker a deal in an attempt to derail a federal investigation into his Internet marketing firm.

The Department of Justice Public Integrity Section is investigating Swallow's interaction with Johnson along with allegations that he promised special consideration to three telemarketers if they would contribute to Shurtleff's re-election campaign.

Swallow also is the subject of two professional misconduct complaints filed with the Utah State Bar and elections violations complaint under review in the lieutenant governor's office.

State Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis said it's time for the state to take action. Both the executive and legislative branches have "completely abdicated their responsibility" to look into the allegations against Swallow, he said Thursday.

"As more and more serious allegations are brought to light against the attorney general and, increasingly, whispers of investigations against Utah's constitutional officeholders grow louder, it is imperative that our one-party state to begin an independent investigation into these alleged violations of state law by our highest state officials," Dabakis said.

Republicans have been largely silent on the controversies swirling around Swallow, but one state lawmaker said it's time to take political campaigning out of the attorney general's office and make it an appointed position.

"I think, like everyone else, it doesn't look good," Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said of the latest accusations against Swallow. "I'm scratching my head wondering how we got to where we are."

Weiler will initiate a discussion in the Utah Legislature next week on whether the attorney general should be appointed, which would take a voter-approved constitutional amendment. He conceded that would be a tough sell with voters.

But, he said, that could change with "high profile story that would make people step back and say, 'You know what? Maybe it's not the best policy for us to ask the chief law enforcement officer in the state to run around and raise over a million dollars. Who's motivated to donate to him?'"

Email: romboy@deseretnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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