Crimes or politics? The legal battles begin for Swallow, Shurtleff

Published: Wednesday, July 16 2014 6:05 p.m. MDT

Former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff leaves the Salt Lake County Jail after being booked and posting bond Tuesday, July 15, 2014, in South Salt Lake.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Investigators spent nearly two years building a criminal case against former Utah Attorneys General Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow, and now they have to prove it.

Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, who along with Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill headed the investigation, said their evidence has yet to be challenged in court, defense lawyers haven't cross-examined witnesses, and a jury hasn't deliberated.

"They're presumed innocent unless our evidence survives persuasively the crucible of the constitutional criminal justice system," he said Wednesday.

Swallow is scheduled to make his first appearance in 3rd District Court on July 22. No court date had been set for Shurtleff as of Wednesday.

Prosecutors charged Swallow with 11 felonies and two misdemeanors and Shurtleff with 10 felonies, including pattern of unlawful activity, soliciting a bribe and evidence tampering. If convicted, they each face as many as 30 years in jail.

The 23 total counts filed Tuesday were the culmination of an unprecedented public corruption investigation by the Utah Department of Public Safety and the FBI.

After being booked and released from jail, neither of the two former Republican attorneys general sounded like they planned to lie down. Both maintained their innocence and said the charges are politically motivated.

"They're going to want to fight," said Brett Tolman, a former U.S attorney for Utah who now works as a defense lawyer. Prosecutors, he said, clearly filed charges with the aim of putting the pair behind bars.

Shurtleff and Swallow are listed as co-defendants in charging documents, but they might not fight together. One or both will likely try to convince a judge to sever the case.

"I would expect Mark Shurtleff to get as far away from John Swallow as he can. But I wouldn't expect the opposite," said Greg Skordas, a Salt Lake defense attorney and former prosecutor.

Skordas said he doesn't think the allegations would be difficult to prove, especially in Swallow's case. Gill and Rawlings, he said, put together a good probable cause statement with the charges.

"I think Swallow's conduct is more egregious. Shurtleff's is more subtle," he said.

Swallow and Shurtleff are accused of obstructing justice, money laundering and accepting illegal gifts as public employees. Though some of the charges overlap, the specific activity alleged in the criminal information is unique to one or the other.

Some of the charges are connected to their relationship with indicted businessman and Shurtleff campaign donor Jeremy Johnson, and imprisoned businessman Marc Sessions Jenson. Shurtleff and Swallow accepted gifts from the two men, including use of Johnson's private jet and trips to a posh Southern California resort that Jenson paid for, according to court documents.

Both were charged under Utah's organized crime law, which is typically used against gangs and drug rings. State lawmakers beefed up the law earlier this year as a result of the House investigation into Swallow. They added witness tampering, altering government records and bribery in a legislative investigation to the list of crimes that fall under the statute.

"The pattern of unlawful activity is really the equivalent of racketeering charges in the federal system. That is a significant charge. It’s a tough one to prove," Tolman said.

White collar crimes also tend to take a long time to work through the court system. He said he wouldn't be surprised if the case takes two years.

But Skordas said he doesn't see why it couldn't be done in six months to a year.

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