SALT LAKE CITY — The Federal Election Commission wants former Utah Attorney General John Swallow added as a co-defendant in its civil lawsuit against St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson.
According to an amended complaint filed in federal court Thursday, prosecutors believe that because the actions of Johnson and Swallow were part of the same episode, they should be co-defendants in their civil complaint.
Johnson, an Internet marketer, is accused of making illegal campaign contributions to former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada.
According to court documents filed Thursday, Johnson "knowingly and willfully made campaign contributions that violated the Federal Election Campaign Act because they exceeded applicable limits and were made in the names of other persons, and former Utah Attorney General John Swallow knowingly and willfully violated FECA by making contributions in the name of another when he caused, helped, and assisted Johnson to advance or reimburse the contributions of straw donors to a candidate for United States Senate."
Prosecutors allege that Johnson used “straw donors," or people who made campaign contributions in their own names using money Johnson provided them.
"Johnson contributed to the Shurtleff and Lee campaigns at Swallow’s behest. Swallow solicited a large contribution from Johnson to Shurtleff’s campaign, and Swallow instructed Johnson to make the contribution by giving money to others for them to contribute in their own names," the federal complaint states.
Swallow's attorney, Scott Williams, called the amended complaint "meritless claims."
"The FEC's position, both in terms of a complaint and allegation and in terms of the characterization of the two defendants is wholly without merit, and we'll defend on both grounds," he said. "Frankly, I'm just not sure what (the FEC is) up to."
The FEC noted that commissioners "endeavored to correct Swallow’s violations through informal methods of conference, conciliation, and persuasion" but when they were unable to reach an agreement, the commission "authorized filing this suit against Swallow."
No one is allowed to donate more than $2,400 to a federal candidate, according to the law. Johnson is accused of using straw donors to contribute approximately $100,000 to Shurtleff’s U.S. Senate campaign, about $50,000 to Lee’s Senate campaign, and about $20,000 to Reid’s re-election campaign, according to court documents.
Swallow and Shurtleff both face multiple public corruption charges associated with their roles with the attorney general's office. Swallow is charged with 13 felonies and one misdemeanor. He resigned under pressure less than a year into his term. Both Swallow and Shurtleff have pleaded not guilty.
Johnson is also facing an 86-count fraud indictment in a parallel federal case against him in connection with his once-thriving Internet marketing company, Iworks.