Report: Colleagues wondered if A.G. Mark Shurtleff was 'spy' in fraud case
Ravell Call, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — How former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff handled the prosecution of a wealthy Salt Lake businessman had attorneys in his office wondering if he was a "spy" in the case, according to a report released Tuesday.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes hired outside counsel to investigate how the office dealt with two criminal cases against Marc Sessions Jenson, who has accused Shurtleff and former Attorney General John Swallow of shaking him down.
Jenson filed a court petition alleging impropriety in the attorney general's office during his prosecution and is seeking his release from prison.
University of Utah law professor and former federal judge Paul Cassell and one-time acting U.S. Attorney for Utah Francis Wikstrom concluded that Jenson did not suffer any prejudice from the way his cases were prosecuted. But they found that some of Shurtleff's conduct "defies explanation."
"Shurtleff’s activities descended to such a low point that senior attorneys within the (office) began to wonder about whether he was a 'spy' passing along adverse information to Jenson and whether he was contemporaneously exchanging text messages with Jenson while prosecutors were prosecuting him in court," they wrote in the 63-page report.
Reyes said he called for the investigation to remedy any prior misconduct that comes to light in the office. The governor appointed Reyes as attorney general after Swallow resigned last December amid allegations of influence peddling.
Cassell and Wikstrom recommended the attorney general's office agree to a court hearing on Jenson's petition as a way to increase public confidence about his treatment in the case.
"Given the information we have just received and provided to the public in the report, it is now in the hands of the courts and Mr. Jenson’s counsel to determine whether any further action is merited," Reyes said in a statement.
Jenson's attorney, Marcus Mumford, said he intends to seek an evidentiary hearing.
"That's really what we've been asking for the whole time," he said. "We simply seek a hearing where we can examine witnesses, review the office's internal documents and get to the bottom of the questions that have been raised about the (former) attorney general's misconduct as it relates to Mr. Jenson."
Cassell and Wikstrom noted that Shurtleff and Swallow declined to be interviewed for the report.
"Sadly, their refusal continues to contribute to a lack of transparency and public confidence about what happened," they wrote.
Shurtleff said in a text message that he wanted to read the report before commenting.
The report describes Shurtleff's "unusual" involvement in Jenson's case, which started after some investors, including a campaign contributor, alleged to Shurtleff that Jenson defrauded them. At the same time, Jenson and his associates gained access to Shurtleff by paying his self-described "fixer," Tim Lawson, at least $114,300, according to the report.
Lawson currently faces criminal charges as part of an ongoing criminal investigation of Swallow and Shurtleff by Salt Lake and Davis counties.
"The situation where an attorney general was having personal interactions with a criminal defendant his office was prosecuting seems to be truly unprecedented," the report states.
The report doesn't fault Jenson for using his access to Shurtleff, but it does fault Shurtleff for allowing a separate, back channel to develop and for his failure to include line prosecutors in those meetings and communications.
"This was a clear deviation from standard policy," the report states.
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