SALT LAKE CITY — A witness for the state broke down in tears Friday recounting how agents raided her small apartment despite her cooperation in the investigation of former Utah Attorney General John Swallow.
Renae Cowley, who worked on Swallow‘s 2012 campaign, testified that a dozen agents in riot gear and carrying guns entered her house and grabbed her cellphone out of her hand as she tried to call her attorney. She said they rifled through her belongings and smirked as they went through her underwear.
"I felt violated. I was embarrassed. I felt unsafe in my own home," she said at Swallow's trial in 3rd District Court.
Meantime, Jeremy Johnson kept his vow of silence for a third straight day Friday.
A crucial witness in the state’s case against Swallow, the imprisoned St. George man invoked his Fifth Amendment right and has refused to answer questions in the trial since Wednesday.
Cowley's testimony came under cross-examination by defense attorney Cara Tangaro. Prosecutor Chou Chou Collins didn't try to downplay or soften Cowley's dramatic story in her follow-up questioning.
Cowley, who now works as a lobbyist, said she cooperated with investigators from the beginning by turning over computer files and allowing them to search her computer. She said agents asked them to trust her and promised to protect her identity because she works in politics.
But, she said, investigators still obtained a search warrant for her 500-square-foot apartment and didn't seek to seal it, revealing "hurtful, salacious" things about her.
"They were cruel in how they treated me that day, like a criminal," Cowley said.
Swallow's defense attorneys have long argued that agents have been heavy-handed and careless in their investigation of Swallow and former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
Prosecutors called Cowley to testify about working with Swallow on his 2012 campaign, specifically a fundraiser held by a man involved in a foreclosure lawsuit in which the attorney general's office had intervened.
Whether Johnson takes the witness stand in the final eight days of the scheduled 16-day trial remains to be seen.
Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills didn't order him to testify Friday but brought him into the courtroom while attorneys again discussed whether he has immunity.
Mary Corporon, Johnson's lawyer, told the judge that Johnson is not opposed to testifying but has a "genuine fear" of being prosecuted by the federal government. Johnson, who is incarcerated in a federal prison in California, also fears he would be known as a snitch and placed into harsher protective custody, she said.
Johnson's attorneys filed a motion in federal court Friday to place Johnson under "house arrest" rather than return him to prison after his testimony, should he give it. U.S. District Judge David Nuffer quickly denied the request.
The Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office sent an immunity agreement to the U.S. Department of Justice to consider but has not heard whether it would accept the terms. Lawyers said they would work over the weekend to find a resolution.
Hruby-Mills agreed to a three-day suspension of Johnson's 30-day sentence for contempt, meaning he would be under FBI supervision, likely at a hotel rather than in jail. Corporon argued it would give her better access to Johnson that way.
The judge ordered Johnson to return to court Tuesday when the trial resumes. Hruby-Mills said she intends to have Johnson brought back every day until the situation is resolved.
Scott Williams, Swallow's attorney, told the judge he expects the state to document and provide any interactions Johnson has with his lawyers, agents and others while the immunity discussions are going on.
Williams said the defense fears Johnson has been "victimized" during the process, including when federal investigators met with him in prison in California last month.
"Our concern is to get information as we're entitled to about the treatment of a witness the state intends to bring, whether it's information about favors they're giving or information about punishment they're applying to him to try to crowbar his testimony out of him," Williams told reporters outside the courtroom.
"Frankly, our concern is more that he's being mistreated because of the exercising of his rights, and if that's true, we want to know about it."
While the district attorney's office extended Johnson's immunity, his lawyers don't believe it would stop other jurisdictions — particularly the federal government — from using his testimony against him in other prosecutions if it could.
Johnson's attorneys said federal agents didn't honor a grant of immunity that Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings earlier gave Johnson in his investigation of Shurtleff and others.
A once wealthy internet marketer, Johnson is serving an 11-year sentence for making false statements to a bank in connection with his company, iWorks.
Swallow is charged with racketeering, bribery, accepting gifts, money laundering and evidence tampering.
Much of the state's case against Swallow is built on Johnson's claims, including an allegation involving Travis Marker, an attorney who specializes in mediation and dispute resolution.
Of the witnesses the state has used to make its case so far, the defense has been able to counter their testimonies with answers drawn out on cross-examination.
In 2011, Johnson approached Marker looking to help him resolve a civil lawsuit the Federal Trade Commission filed against him. That summer, Marker met with Swallow, whom Johnson told him was a "family friend," three times about the FTC case and a parallel federal criminal case against Johnson on several occasions.
Marker described Swallow as a "little bit nervous" over the meetings and being associated with Johnson because he was running for attorney general.
In a meeting at the state Capitol, Marker said Swallow said if Johnson had some more money, there might be some options. Marker said he recalled the figure was $120,000.
Marker testified that he was aware that Johnson had already paid money for someone to lobby the FTC on his behalf. He said Johnson, whose assets were frozen by the FTC, didn't have more money.
Under cross-examination, Marker said there was no specific discussion with Swallow about what the $120,000 would be used for. He said he brainstormed with Swallow but nothing came of their discussions.
Johnson accused Swallow — in his first week as attorney general in 2013 — of helping to set up a $250,000 payment to enlist former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in an effort to get the FTC off his back. Swallow maintains he only introduced Johnson to a friend who could lobby the senator.
Johnson ultimately went to trial in 2016 on an 86-count fraud indictment. A federal jury acquitted him of all but eight counts of making false statements to a bank. He is appealing his conviction, which is among the reason his lawyers advised him against testifying in the Swallow case.
Prosecutors on Friday also brought in former Swallow campaign staffers to testify about his actions during the 2012 election, particularly over a fundraiser at the Holladay home of Tim and Jennifer Bell.
Swallow allegedly benefited financially from a fundraising effort with the Bells, who had sued Bank of America over its foreclosure practices in 2011. The attorney general's office intervened in that case to prevent the bank from conducting nonjudicial foreclosures in Utah, representing thousands of Utahns whose property faced foreclosure.
Swallow has maintained he didn't realize the Bells were the same Bells involved in the lawsuit until the night of the fundraiser.
Campaign staffer Seth Crossley, who helped organize the event, testified that Swallow had an "aha moment on his face" and that it appeared genuine. Crossley also testified that Swallow didn't ask him to do anything illegal or unethical.
The Bells hosted a fundraiser for Swallow's 2012 attorney general campaign that cost $28,000 to put on but that he reported on campaign finance disclosures as a $15,000 in-kind donation and later a $1,000 donation, the charges state.10 comments on this story
In March 2013, Swallow told his campaign manager to refund Bell's in-kind donation to avoid "even the appearance of impropriety," according to court documents. The Bells did not receive a refund.
Swallow also met with Bank of America lobbyists and told a division chief in the attorney general's office that he might have given the bank the impression that if the Bells' case was settled, the state would drop out of the lawsuit, court documents state. The Bells later accepted a loan modification from the bank. Shurtleff pulled the state out of the lawsuit during his last days in office.