SALT LAKE CITY — Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes said he's willing to be placed under oath to rebut claims that he attended a secret meeting involving the Utah Transit Authority at a luxury Southern California resort nearly eight years ago.
But he won't be taking the witness stand for now.
"I almost walked down there yesterday, down to that court, and just walked into that court and demanded to he heard," the Draper Republican said Wednesday. "What was said yesterday in that court hearing was a lie."
Marc Sessions Jenson testified Tuesday at a hearing in the John Swallow criminal case that Hughes and then-U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, attended a “big” meeting involving UTA officials and developers working on the Draper FrontRunner station in June 2009. Hughes was not speaker, but was a legislator and UTA board chairman at the time.
Hughes said he wants to testify but is concerned that it would conflict with or be a distraction to the legislative session that started this week.
"There is a way for me to clearly show my whereabouts in the time that these referred-to meetings had taken place. What I'm going to do is I'm going to provide ample evidence of where I was during that time, and I'm going to turn it over to county attorneys and what they're looking at, and I expect my name to be cleared," he said on KSL Newsradio's "The Doug Wright Show."
Jenson's allegations came during a two-day hearing in which 3rd District Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills will decide whether the prosecution may admit hearsay evidence — basically statements former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, former Attorney General Swallow and the late Tim Lawson allegedly made to witnesses.
The judge took the arguments under advisement.
Prosecutors are trying to prove they were part of criminal conspiracy. Swallow is also charged with bribery, accepting gifts and making false statements. His trial is scheduled to start Feb. 7.
Assistant Salt Lake County district attorney Fred Burmester said in the hearing Wednesday that the aim of the conspiracy was to get Shurtleff and Swallow into public office and take money to keep them there.
Shurtleff was the apex, Swallow the money man and Lawson the enforcer, he said.
Swallow's lawyer Scott Williams said there was no criminal triangle. He said no money flowed to Swallow or Shurtleff and that elections are in the hands of voters. Men playing golf together at a fancy resort does not make a cabal, he said. Williams said there's no proof the three conspired to break the law.
Burmester told the judge Wednesday that he hadn't heard Jenson's story about Hughes until Tuesday morning.
Williams said he would welcome Hughes' testimony and "anyone who wants to come and tell the truth." Williams said he received a number of phone calls from people who want to testify after what Jenson said Tuesday.
But Williams decided late Wednesday not to call any witnesses for the evidentiary hearing now that he's heard the state's conspiracy theory. Hughes and others, including some of Jenson's past attorneys, could be called to testify at the trial.
He put nine new names on the witness list, including Jenson's former attorneys. Williams said he intends to interview all of them — "even O.J.'s lawyer." Jenson at one time hired Robert Shapiro, who defended O.J. Simpson.
Investigators "got in bed" with Jenson, so law enforcement can't be relied on to see if Jenson is telling the truth, Williams said. "They purposefully buried their head in the sand."
A convicted felon and key prosecution witness, Jenson testified that Hughes was with Shurtleff and Swallow at the posh Pelican Hill resort in Southern California where he had moved after settling his criminal case in Utah. He claims he paid for the trip, and Shurtleff and Swallow shook him down for money and favors.
Jenson testified that the date of the trip was June 3 to June 8 or 9 in 2009. He said the meeting took place in his office in Corona Del Mar and that he was told not to be there.
Shurtleff said Hughes was not at Pelican Hill and that there was no meeting.
"No, in no way, shape or form, absolutely not, ever," he said. "Speaker Hughes has every reason to be absolutely outraged."
Shurtleff, who no longer faces criminal charges, called allegations about Reid "balderdash."
Investigators could have corroborated Reid's movements and presence in California with the Secret Service rather than relying on Jenson, he said.
Jenson told Wright on Wednesday: "I stand by every single word that came out of my mouth yesterday." He said he signed an agreement with investigators to cooperate and tell the truth.
Jenson described Hughes as a "mystery man" to investigators because he said he didn't know who he was at the time. He testified that he identified Hughes from an Instagram photo last year and sent a screen grab to his lawyer, Helen Redd.
"Greg Hughes was there. I can only assume it was for that secret meeting that was held with Harry Reid that night. I didn't meet Greg Hughes, he walked by without offering a hand, without saying a word. And Mark Shurtleff didn't introduce him or tell me who he was," Jenson said.
Jenson acknowledged that he didn't see Reid but said two people told him the recently retired senator was there.
FBI forensic accountant Heidi Ransdell testified Wednesday that she didn't see any Pelican Hill receipts involving Hughes or Reid.
During his almost seven hours on the stand Tuesday, Jenson further testified that he spoke to investigators and turned over financial documents while in prison in 2013 showing $35 million in kickbacks to the Draper train station developers, UTA and Zions Bank. He accused Hughes and UTA board members of receiving hundreds of thousands in cash payments.
During Wednesday's testimony, Williams tried to poke holes in the way investigators gathered evidence, contending they failed to corroborate Jenson's testimony through other sources.
Williams also brought another high-profile politician into the case.
He questioned FBI special agent Jon Isakson about a February 2009 letter that Gov. Gary Herbert wrote for Shurtleff’s self-described “fixer,” Lawson. Herbert vouches for Lawson’s character and considers him a friend in the letter to a capital investment firm. Witnesses have described Lawson as a bully who threatened them with physical harm.
Williams asked Isakson if he interviewed Herbert to compare his thoughts about Lawson to the narrative that he was a “crook.”
Isakson said agents didn’t come across anything that would connect Herbert to the Shurtleff and Swallow investigations.
Jenson served four years in prison for failing to pay restitution after entering a plea in abeyance to selling unregistered securities. In 2014, a jury acquitted him of fraud and money laundering charges in a separate case.
Lawson faced criminal charges relating to the Shurtleff and Swallow investigation but died before going to trial.