No federal charges for John Swallow, Mark Shurtleff

Published: Thursday, Sept. 12 2013 9:45 a.m. MDT

Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is interviewed in his office at the Capitol in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012.
 (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is interviewed in his office at the Capitol in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Federal authorities will not file criminal charges against Utah Attorney General John Swallow or his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff.

Both learned through their lawyers Thursday that the U.S. Department of Justice Public Integrity Section completed its investigation and will not seek an indictment.

Swallow described his reaction to the news as "excited, happy and humbled." But he continued to maintain that the allegations are politically motivated.

"I have said all along that I didn't do anything that would lead to these kinds of accusations. I really wonder about the sources people rely on when they go ballistic with allegations against a public official," Swallow said.

St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson ignited a political firestorm in January when he accused Swallow of helping broker an attempt to bribe a U.S. senator to thwart a federal investigation into Johnson's Internet sales and marketing company iWorks.

Johnson declined to comment Thursday, citing an ongoing court-imposed gag order in his criminal case. The Federal Trade Commission shut down iWorks in 2011, and Johnson now faces an 86-count fraud indictment.

Johnson's accusation led to a federal probe, which spawned ongoing investigations on the state and county levels not only involving Swallow but Shurtleff as well. The federal decision does not appear to have changed the course of those inquiries.

The former attorney general said he was relieved to have the burden of the federal investigation removed.

"Frankly, I fell to my knees," Shurtleff said on KSL NewRadio's "The Doug Wright Show," his voice cracking with emotion. "You can only imagine … what this cloud puts over 14 years of public service and, more importantly, the impact on my family."

Rumors that the DOJ would not file federal charges against Swallow and Shurtleff have swirled for the past several weeks. But agency spokesman Peter Carr would not confirm the report Thursday.

“As a matter of policy, we’ll decline to comment and refer you to their attorneys,” Carr said.

The DOJ typically doesn't issue a report of its criminal investigations or explain why it declines to file charges.

Swallow declined to comment about his interactions with federal authorities and details of the investigation.

"There aren't a lot of answers, but there are some answers," Swallow said, saying specifically that there wasn't enough "credible evidence" to bring federal charges against him or Shurtleff.

"The people may not know everything, but they know that. That's a lot to know," he said.

Several businessmen, including Marc Jenson and Johnson, accused Swallow and Shurtleff of influence peddling in various settings. Some of the allegations involved both officials together, while others were aimed at them individually.

Jenson, a one-time multimillionaire, claims Shurtleff and Swallow shook him down for campaign contributions and other favors during trips to his posh Newport Beach villa. He also accused Swallow of securing a "quid pro quo" agreement from him for a $1 million lot in the failed billion-dollar golf and ski resort known as Mount Holly.

Swallow, a private attorney during his interactions with Jenson, and Shurtleff steadfastly denied the allegations. Jenson is serving a 10-year prison term for failing to pay a $4.1 million restitution in an earlier criminal case in which he pleaded no contest to selling unregistered securities.

Shurtleff described his accusers as "liars, haters and political enemies."

"Obviously, I'm confident and known all along there was never anything I did that was criminal or unethical, particularly criminal, but you never know," he said. "I have great respect for the FBI and Public Integrity in particular. They leave no stone unturned."

Shurtleff said he spent hours with federal investigators, but declined to discuss the details of those interviews.

The DOJ investigation was among five inquiries on the federal, state and county level aimed at Swallow. The state elections office is looking into whether he violated campaign finance disclosure laws. He also is the subject of two Utah State Bar complaints.

The Utah House special investigative committee began its work in earnest Wednesday, empowering a team of high-priced lawyers and investigators to look into Swallow.

Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, said the committee has a different focus from the other investigations and will continue regardless of those outcomes.

"Our responsibility is to determine the facts and present them to the House and to the Utah public, and we'll continue to do that," said Dunnigan, the committee's chairman.

Swallow, a first-term Republican, questioned the prudence of the House inquiry, particularly the committee's plea Wednesday for anyone with information about his alleged wrongdoing to come forward.

"I am shocked. They seem to be looking for an allegation. They are acting like they don't have things to look at, so they're asking people who may not like the office, maybe they've been put in prison, maybe a disgruntled employee, anyone who I've ever interacted with to come forward with information," he said.

"This is new and ultra-aggressive. Are they so intent on finding something that they'll do this to the attorney general?"

Swallow and Shurtleff also are the subjects of a joint investigation by Salt Lake County Attorney Sim Gill and Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings. They are looking into whether Swallow's and Shurtleff's dealings violated any state laws.

"The Department of Justice is done with whatever process they did or did not go through. We are not. The state investigation, with the assistance of the FBI, continues," Rawlings said in an email Thursday.

Shurtleff said he as no knowledge of their "alleged" investigation other than what he has seen in the media and neither county attorney has spoken to him. He said he understands they have interviewed Jenson, who has "made up lie after lie about me."

"I would suspect that if there is an investigation that they will give me the opportunity to come talk to them at some point and refute those allegations that Marc Jenson and others have made," Shurtleff said.

The Alliance for a Better Utah, which filed complaints against Swallow with state bar and the state elections office, said the DOJ only addresses possible wrongdoing under federal law.

"Its decision not to prosecute potential violations off federal criminal law does not address or resolve potential criminal actions under state law or civil actions or ethical violations under federal or state law, or non-governmental impropriety," Better Utah said in a statement.

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