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Report: Attorney General John Swallow violated Utah election laws

Published: Sunday, July 5 2015 12:37 p.m. MDT

Utah Attorney General John Swallow announces his resignation during a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News) Utah Attorney General John Swallow announces his resignation during a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Attorney General John Swallow purposefully omitted nearly $60,000 of income and roles in several companies from his candidate financial disclosures, according to a state elections office report.

And despite his repeated assertions that he fully cooperated with the investigation, Swallow's participation was "inconsistent," and he altered witness statements to try to influence the course of the investigation.

The elections office released a 136-page report Friday, saying its special counsel found sufficient evidence that Swallow violated financial disclosure and conflict of interest laws in his 2012 campaign.

"There are numerous inconsistencies between Swallow's testimony and other evidence, as well as apparent implausible explanations that raise suspicions about his credibility," the report says.

Utah Attorney General John Swallow embraces his wife, Suzanne, after a press conference announcing his resignation at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) Utah Attorney General John Swallow embraces his wife, Suzanne, after a press conference announcing his resignation at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

The special counsel also said Swallow and his attorneys tried to control and influence their investigation.

"Most significantly, we learned that Swallow and his lawyers attempted to alter the summaries of our interviews with witnesses by adding and subtracting language from witness statements we prepared and asked the witnesses to review, modify and sign," according to the report.

Swallow announced his resignation at a news conference Thursday, saying his last day in office will be Dec. 2.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox has not decided whether he will turn the report over to a court in light of the attorney general's resignation.

"I will take the next few days to carefully evaluate the full report and determine how to proceed," Cox said in a statement.

Embattled Utah Attorney General John Swallow announces his resignation at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) Embattled Utah Attorney General John Swallow announces his resignation at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

Under the law, a judge could void Swallow's election and declare the office vacant.

Whether a judge vacates the office or Swallow, a Republican, resigns, the GOP Central Committee will choose three names for the governor to consider as a replacement, said Mark Thomas, state elections director.

The Republican selected would face election in 2014 to fill the remainder of Swallow's four-year term.

Utah Democrats are taking issue with the process, contending Swallow cheated and shouldn't have been on last November's ballot.

"The law is clear. If a candidate cheats, the election is invalid," said state Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis.

Dabakis, a state senator, said voters should elect the next attorney general, "not the same delegates who are responsible for John Swallow and this mess in the first place."

Embattled Utah Attorney General John Swallow grimaces after completing a press conference where he resigned as the state's attorney at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) Embattled Utah Attorney General John Swallow grimaces after completing a press conference where he resigned as the state's attorney at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

Maryann Martindale, executive director of the Alliance for a Better Utah, said the findings should go to the courts and the investigation should continue to its legal conclusion. She said there might be other applicable laws that could result in fines, other penalties or even criminal charges.

If Cox doesn't forward the report, Martindale said Better Utah would look into ways to get it before a judge itself.

Salt Lake County Attorney Sim Gill and Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said in a statement that they intend to review the report as part of their broader ongoing investigation into Swallow with the Utah Department or Public Safety and the FBI.

Better Utah filed the elections complaint against Swallow in March, alleging 12 violations of state law. The elections office dismissed nine counts in May but said three called for further investigation.

The lieutenant governor's office hired the law firm of Snell & Wilmer to conduct an investigation into all the claims. Thomas said the report cost about $200,000.

Embattled Utah Attorney General John Swallow announces his resignation at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. Swallow cut a deal with the lieutenant governor's office to resign in order to avoid facing criminal charges. A report from the special counsel the office hired to investigate alleged election law violations recommended that Swallow be charged with three misdemeanors, a source said.
In lieu of the criminal charges, the office negotiated a deal calling for only civil sanctions if Swallow would step down. The deal would prevent his election from being invalidated in a court action and his office from being up for grabs in a special election. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) Embattled Utah Attorney General John Swallow announces his resignation at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. Swallow cut a deal with the lieutenant governor's office to resign in order to avoid facing criminal charges. A report from the special counsel the office hired to investigate alleged election law violations recommended that Swallow be charged with three misdemeanors, a source said. In lieu of the criminal charges, the office negotiated a deal calling for only civil sanctions if Swallow would step down. The deal would prevent his election from being invalidated in a court action and his office from being up for grabs in a special election. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

The special counsel found Swallow failed to disclose income from Check City, P-Solutions, Guidant Strategies and RMR Consulting totaling $58,117. He also left off his position as manager of SSV Management and P-Solutions, a limited liability company and a consulting firm, respectively.

The omissions were "planned and deliberate" on two separate campaign filings, one on March 9, 2012, and the other March 15, 2012, according to the report.

Swallow withdrew as manager of SSV Management and P-Solutions on March 15, the same day he filed the second conflict of interest form. He told the special counsel in a deposition cited in the report that his intent was to send a message to voters that he wanted to be the attorney general "100 percent of the time for the public if I won."

Utah Attorney General John Swallow announces his resignation during a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News) Utah Attorney General John Swallow announces his resignation during a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News)

But Lee McCullough, an estate planning attorney with whom Swallow consulted, told the special counsel that Swallow didn't want P-Solutions to come up in his campaign.

The special counsel concluded that "attempting to send a message by omitting required disclosures about his former and continuing business relationships … was misleading because voters reasonably may infer the opposite."

During Thursday's news conference announcing his resignation, Swallow again maintained he has broken no laws and that he is innocent of all the allegations made against him.

Swallow said he relied on the advice of McCullough and assistant attorney general Thom Roberts that he not include the income and business associations on his disclosure forms.

Utah Attorney General John Swallow announces his resignation during a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News) Utah Attorney General John Swallow announces his resignation during a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News)

"In hindsight, if I'd known it would be an issue at all, I would have just included them anyway. The problem with that was I had to sign on the line saying that what I was writing was true and accurate to the best of my belief," Swallow said Thursday. "But you just don't know when something might become an issue later on."

It became in issue when Swallow introduced St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson to his former Check City boss Richard M. Rawle as someone who could help lobby the Federal Trade Commission on Johnson's behalf. The FTC was investigating Johnson's Internet marketing company in 2010.

Johnson claims Swallow helped arrange a deal to pay off a U.S. senator to thwart the investigation. Johnson and an associate paid Rawle $250,000 and ran the money through a firm he set up called RMR Consulting.

Embattled Utah Attorney General John Swallow announces his resignation at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) Embattled Utah Attorney General John Swallow announces his resignation at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

In an affidavit before he died, Rawle said he paid lobbyists with part of the money and took $50,000 for his fee, part of which he used to pay "miscellaneous" expenses. One of those bills was from P-Solutions for consulting work that Swallow did on a cement project Rawle had in Nevada.

Swallow later returned the check, which came from the RMR account, and asked that it come from another account. Rawle then paid him from another account.

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