Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Former Utah Attorneys General Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow apparently considered using a wealthy campaign donor's houseboat or airplane and jetting to a posh Southern California resort, on the dime of another rich businessman the office had prosecuted, part of doing business as public servants.
But criminal investigators say those activities and others were signs of public corruption that led Tuesday to 10 felony charges against Shurtleff and 11 felonies and two misdemeanors against Swallow.
The criminal charges stem from a nearly two-year investigation by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, along with the Utah Department of Public Safety and the FBI.
Gill called them "serious allegations," but he also described the 23 total counts as "minimal."
"We could have filed more, but we have chosen instead to file what we have," he said during a press conference at the FBI's Salt Lake headquarters.
Charges of that magnitude — Shurtleff and Swallow could spend as many as 15 years in prison on some counts if convicted — are unprecedented in Utah politics. Court documents describe a five-year trail of criminal behavior never before seen in the state's rather tame political scene.
"I think all of this is surprising to anyone you talk to," Gill said.
The two former attorneys general proclaimed their innocence and vowed to fight the charges rather than take plea deals. Gill would not speculate about the cases going to trial.
Utah's former top law enforcement officials, both Republicans, were charged in 3rd District Court with pattern of unlawful activity, a second-degree felony; and three counts of receiving or soliciting bribes by a public official, a third-degree felony.
In addition, Shurtleff was charged with two counts of illegally accepting gifts or loans, a second-degree felony; accepting employment that would impair judgment, a second-degree felony; witness tampering, a third-degree felony; evidence tampering, a third-degree felony and obstructing justice, a third-degree felony.
Swallow was also charged with accepting a gift or loan when prohibited, a second-degree felony; giving false or inconsistent statements, a second-degree felony; three counts of evidence tampering, a third-degree felony; misuse of public money, a third-degree felony; obstructing justice, a third-degree felony; falsifying or altering government records, a class B misdemeanor; and failing to disclose a conflict of interest, a class B misdemeanor.
Public safety and FBI agents arrested both men at their Sandy homes Tuesday morning and took them to the Salt Lake County Jail where they were booked, fingerprinted and had their mug shots taken. Bail was set at $250,000 each, but a judge ordered their releases on the condition they promise to appear in court.
At an afternoon news conference just hours after he left jail on crutches due to recent knee surgery, Shurtleff called the charges "completely false" and attributed them to "political sideshow antics" on the part of Gill, a Democrat.
Shurtleff berated Gill during most of the 20-minute meeting with reporters but declined to address the criminal charges, other than to say he didn't break any laws or do anything to misuse the public trust.
"I admit I'm not perfect. I never professed to be perfect. I, as all of us, made some mistakes in my time as attorney general. Probably, clearly errors in judgment," he said.
Swallow walked out of a jail shortly after noon. He told reporters gathered outside that it has been a very difficult time for him. But he looked forward to having his day in court.
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