SALT LAKE CITY — Former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff pleaded not guilty Monday to felony public corruption charges during a routine hearing.
But chatter between lawyers turned chippy afterward.
Appearing in court, Shurtleff entered the plea through his lawyer before 3rd District Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills. Shurtleff didn't speak during or after the brief hearing.
But his attorney, Richard Van Wagoner, commented on Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings and Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill saying last week that the U.S. Attorney's Office should take back the case because it undermined an immunity agreement with a key witness in the case against Shurtleff and former Attorney General John Swallow.
Van Wagoner said the Department of Justice with its "massive resources" did a "thorough" investigation and decided not to file criminal charges against Shurtleff. Calling for the feds to take back the case implies there are things they didn't do, he said.
"I wish Mr. Gill would stop making such prejudicial comments in the public about my client," he said, adding that Gill is no longer the prosecutor in the Shurtleff case, Rawlings is.
When told what Van Wagoner had to say, Gill said his statements last week were in line with what Rawlings voiced last week and he himself expressed a year ago about the case, and that Van Wagoner should re-read them for clarity.
"In this context, again, it was about some of the conduct of the U.S. Attorney's Office and we were raising an issue about their conflict or no conflict," he said. "If there is a conflict, they need to leave us alone and let us prosecute our matter and not interfere with it. If there is no conflict, they're really the ones who should be looking at it and reviewing it. "
Rawlings had no immediate comment.
The Federal Election Commission earlier this month filed a civil complaint against indicted St. George Internet marketer Jeremy Johnson for allegedly making illegal campaign contributions to Shurtleff, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada.
Rawlings and Gill offered Johnson immunity for the information as part of their investigation, which included the FBI and the Utah Department of Public Safety.
Then-U.S. Attorney for Utah David Barlow removed his office from investigations into Swallow and Shurtleff in May 2013 without explanation. Rawlings said federal authorities apparently decided they no longer have a conflict after the FEC went after Johnson.
State prosecutors two weeks ago dropped bribery and other charges against Shurtleff, who has also deferred his right to an evidence hearing pending the outcome of motions his lawyer intends to file.
Van Wagoner said he plans to file those motions on the remaining charges in the next 30 days, but declined to discuss details. The judge set a status hearing for Aug. 10.
Shurtleff faces three counts of accepting gifts, two second- and one third-degree felony; bribery to dismiss a criminal proceeding, a second-degree felony; obstruction of justice, a third-degree felony and a class A misdemeanor; and official misconduct, a class B misdemeanor. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
The charges against Shurtleff, a former three-term Republican officeholder, and his successor, Swallow, stem from a nearly two-year investigation into relationships they had, including Johnson and imprisoned businessman Marc Sessions Jenson.
Swallow, who is charged with 13 felonies, gave up his right to a preliminary hearing last month. He is scheduled to be arraigned July 27. Swallow resigned under pressure less than a year into his term.
Gill and Rawlings initially charged the two former attorneys general together, but a judge later separated the cases. Gill is now prosecuting Swallow, while Rawlings is prosecuting Shurtleff.
Some of the charges against Shurtleff are related to two trips he made to the lavish Pelican Hill Resort near Newport Beach, California, paid for by Jenson, a Salt Lake businessman the attorney general's office had prosecuted for selling unregistered securities.
Shurtleff also allegedly accepted gifts from indicted businessman Jeremy Johnson, who contributed to the former attorney general's campaign. Specifically, prosecutors say he used Johnson's personal jet and stayed at his home.
Johnson's trial on 86 counts of fraud related to his Internet marketing company is scheduled for September.
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