Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Attorney General John Swallow finds himself in the crosshairs of another criminal investigation, this one by two county attorneys in conjunction with federal authorities over the past few months.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings are looking into whether the attorney general's office has broken any state laws.
"There were things that Troy was looking at and there were things that I was looking at and it made sense for us to look at them jointly," Gill said Thursday.
Neither Gill nor Rawlings would disclose the targets of the investigation or what specific laws they're looking at.
However, it likely would involve Utah's public officers' and employees' ethics act, which prohibits accepting gifts and compensation that would improperly influence the impartial discharge of one's duties.
"The purpose of this cooperation has been to share resources and information, and where and when appropriate, to determine what the proper venue may be for filing any potential state criminal charges if any at all," they said in a statement Thursday.
Gill said they have shared information with federal investigators and will continue to do so as part of an ongoing probe. Rawlings said the investigation will go on "until conclusions are reached."
Attorney general's office spokesman Paul Murphy said the office isn't aware of the investigation.
The probe apparently involves imprisoned swindler Marc Sessions Jenson, who last week claimed he hosted Swallow and former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff at the upscale Pelican Hill resort in Newport Beach twice in 2009. Swallow, a private attorney and Shurtleff fundraiser at the time, made a third trip later that year with his wife. Jenson in an interview from prison said the two enjoyed luxury lodging, food, golf and items from the pro shop on his dime.
Jenson said Shurtleff, who was running for U.S. Senate at the time, and Swallow wanted to meet some of his wealthy friends whom they saw as potential campaign donors. Jenson also said Swallow told him that once he joined the attorney general's office, which we would do in October 2009, he could help with his legal troubles.
The Southern California trips came after the attorney general's office and Jenson reached a plea-in-abeyance agreement that included a fine but no jail time for selling unregulated securities. A 3rd District judge rejected that deal as too lenient. The judge accepted a second plea agreement that also allowed Jenson to avoid jail but imposed restitution totaling $4.1 million.
Jenson is now 22 months into a 10-year prison term after he failed to repay the fraud victims. The FBI has interviewed him twice in prison, he said.
Swallow said last week this interactions with Jenson occurred when he was a private lawyer and that he never promised to help Jenson if he breached his plea agreement. He also said he walled himself from the Jenson case in June 2011.
The case sparked controversy — first amid allegations that Shurtleff filed the charges against Jenson as a favor for a friend whose wife was a campaign contributor, then from victims who were dissatisfied with the initial plea deal.
Gill said his investigation started after Jenson's attorney at the time asked him to look into the case.
He and Rawlings teamed up to ensure bipartisanship, Gill said. Gill is a Democrat, Rawlings a Repubican.
"The goal here is fulfill our role as public prosecutors. The goal here is to do this in a bipartisan way," Gill said.
Rawlings and Gill said they have been working with federal investigators over a number of months and the recent recusal of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Utah from the federal investigation does not have any impact on the continued state interest.
The U.S. Department of Justice Public Integrity Section is now handling the Swallow investigation out of Washington, D.C.
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