Special counsel set to report findings in John Swallow elections violations probe
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The lieutenant governor's office is expected to announce as early as Thursday results of an investigation into whether Utah Attorney General John Swallow violated state election laws.
The special counsel hired to look into the allegations is ready to recommend how the state should proceed, sources told the Deseret News. The sources, however, declined go on the record about any specific action the state might take.
Mark Thomas, deputy chief lieutenant governor and state elections director, would not confirm whether action is imminent.
"When we get to a point that we're ready to announce, we'll let you know," he said.
Asked if that could be Thursday, Thomas said, "We'll let you know as soon as we're ready."
The Alliance for a Better Utah filed a complaint against Swallow in January, alleging 12 violations of state election law. The elections office dismissed nine counts in May but said three called for further investigation.
The lieutenant governor's office hired the law firm of Snell & Wilmer as special counsel in July to look into the allegations in what it said would be a four-month investigation costing $200,000.
Two of the counts allege Swallow failed to disclose that he was an owner or manager of a consulting firm and that he received income from another consulting business. The third alleges he made false and misleading statements about his financial condition on campaign disclosure forms.
However, Thomas earlier said the special counsel would be free to review all of the issues Better Utah raised in its complaint.
Meanwhile, the price tag for the Legislature’s 3-month-old investigation into Swallow has hit $1.5 million, including $300,000 spent on court actions over retrieving missing data, House Republicans were told Wednesday.
To be both fair and thorough “takes more time and it costs more money,” the head of the House investigative committee, Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, said in a report to the House GOP caucus.
Legislative General Counsel John Fellows told the caucus that the committee intends to begin holding public hearings where witnesses are called to testify as soon as next month.
Fellows said the committee is focused only on Swallow.
"The investigators and the lawyers have tunnel vision,” he said. “They don’t care what former Attorney General (Mark) Shurtleff did. They don’t care about other evidence that may come out."
Dunnigan said investigators are still looking for additional missing electronic devices, including a campaign iPad lost in Washington, D.C., in February, as well as missing emails, text messages and electronic calendar listings.
Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, wanted to know what the missing data was expected to reveal.
"Until we get the electronic records, this is what we know. It’s from pertinent people. It’s from a pertinent time period,” Dunnigan said. “What will the records show? We don’t know.”
Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, questioned whether lawmakers would be able to act on what the committee finds.
“I want to make sure we’re not spending resources on investigating allegations that even if they were proven true would not be within our scope of authority to then move forward with the impeachment process,” Green said.
Fellows said it’s yet to be decided in Utah whether office holders can be impeached for “unethical or inappropriate acts that might not rise to the level of crimes.”
The elections complaint claims Swallow failed to disclose his interest in several business entities and income from three, including RMR Consulting.
The late Richard M. Rawle set up RMR Consulting after Swallow introduced him to St. George businessman Jeremy 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 P Solutions for consulting work that Swallow did on a cement project Rawle had in Nevada.
P Solutions later returned the check, which came from the RMR account, and asked that it come from another account. Rawle then paid P Solutions $23,500 from another account, according to the affidavit.
Swallow filed a response to the petition through his attorneys in April, saying the claims were without merit and politically motivated
Swallow's estate planning attorney, Lee McCullough III, formed P Solutions as a subsidiary of a blind family trust and limited liability company, SSV Management, he had set up for Swallow's family, according to the response.
"At no time did Mr. Swallow receive any income, distributions or payment for services from P Solutions, nor was Mr. Swallow compensated directly by Mr. Rawle for consulting work," according to the response. All disbursements from P Solutions were made to Swallow's wife, Suzanne.
According to the response, Swallow never had any ownership interest in P Solutions but had served as a manager. McCullough advised him that if he resigned as an unpaid manager before the campaign filing deadline, he would not have to disclose P Solutions on his forms, which is what Swallow did.
Swallow faces the possibility of being removed from office if he is found to be in violation of state elections law. His attorneys, however, dispute that, arguing the Utah Constitution provides only for removal through impeachment conducted by the Utah Legislature.
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