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Senator aims to close loophole Swallow exploited

Published February 22, 2013 9:12 am

Utah politics • Bill would strengthen the rules and conflict-of-interest safeguards for top state officials.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A state senator is looking to close a loophole that allowed Attorney General John Swallow to do undisclosed outside consulting work while he was the No. 2 law enforcement officer in the state.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said SB83 is a direct response to Swallow's outside consulting work on a Nevada cement project. "I'm not going to deny that," Weiler said.

Swallow has argued the work was permissible because the rules regarding outside work by career lawyers in the office didn't apply to him, since he was a political appointee of then-Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

"Really, the core of it is making political appointees in an office working side by side with career employees or attorneys play by the same rules," Weiler said.

SB83 would restrict employment for those top managers working for the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer and auditor. Policies would be required to prevent conflicts of interest between the outside work and the employees' regular jobs.

Weiler said his constituents were upset that Swallow was a full-time, salaried employee with a six-figure compensation package who made $23,500, doing 100 hours of consulting work on the side over the period of a few months.

Weiler said he has not heard much opposition to the bill from any of the agencies that would be affected, including the Attorney General's Office.

"We appreciate the time and care Senator Weiler put into this issue and hope the bill will benefit all state employees," Paul Murphy, a spokesman for the attorney general, said in a statement.

Swallow made $210,000 a year in salary and benefits as chief deputy.

Swallow had done work for the late Check City founder Richard Rawle, acting as his eyes and ears on a limestone cement project in Nevada and lining up two attorneys to deal with American Indian issues in the Silver State.

Rawle paid him with money he had received for attempting to help St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson — then a friend of Swallow and a prominent donor to Shurtleff — derail a Federal Trade Commission investigation into Johnson's I Works business.

Johnson paid Rawle $250,000, the first payment on a $600,000 deal intended to enlist Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to weigh in on Johnson's behalf. Reid has denied any knowledge of Johnson's case.

When Swallow learned that Rawle had paid him with Johnson's money, Swallow returned the funds and asked to be paid from another account.

Neither the payment nor Swallow's stake in the consulting business, P-Solutions, was disclosed on his candidate financial disclosure.

Swallow had removed himself as an officer in P-Solutions and two other companies — SSV Management and I Aware — the day he filed his financial disclosure. He put all three into his wife's name, but did not disclose her interest in the companies on his disclosure, either.

Shurtleff said in a recent interview that he had no idea Swallow was doing the consulting work and, while it didn't specifically violate the office policy at the time, he disapproved of the arrangement when he found out about it.

"While it's legal, I don't think it's a good idea," Shurtleff said. "I don't like it."

Swallow was not alone in doing additional paid work outside the office, with several top officials in the Attorney General's Office teaching law or criminal justice courses.

Chief Deputy Kirk Torgensen, for example, teaches a law course at the University of Utah and Weber State University and also teaches a course on internal affairs at the police academy.

Weiler said he is not trying to put a stop to the work they can do and especially doesn't want to affect the career attorneys who he said are already underpaid.

"We have assistant attorneys general who are paid so far below the standard rate of attorneys that they're literally selling suits on the weekend," Weiler said. While he would rather pay them better, he doesn't want to stop them from making a living.

Republican senators were urged again Thursday during a closed caucus to avoid making public statements that might compromise their ability to be an impartial jury if the House approves articles of impeachment against Swallow.

Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said he doesn't expect it will come to that.

"I don't think there's a real good chance that we would be in an impeachment situation and certainly not until after the session," Okerlund said. "I think the more likely process would be, if there's an indictment, that he would just resign."

Meanwhile, former Republican state senator and U.S. Senate candidate Dan Liljenquist said Thursday that it is time for Swallow to resign or else face impeachment.

"A lot of people are saying that John Swallow deserves due process. He absolutely does in a court of law, but you do not have the right to the public trust," Liljenquist said. "I really don't think John Swallow can effectively operate as attorney general with the cloud that hangs over his office, regardless of whether or not criminal charges are filed."

He said if Swallow doesn't step down, the Legislature should move to impeach him, although he acknowledged that would likely not come until after the current legislative session.

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke —

Moonlighting in A.G.'s Office

Chief Deputy Kirk Torgensen • Teaches constitutional law at the University of Utah and search and seizure and a course on critical legal issues at Weber State University. He also teaches a course that includes internal-affairs investigations at the police academy.

General Counsel Brian Tarbet •Teaches American Military and Defense Institutions at Utah State University.

Director of Communications and Policy Paul Murphy • Consults on the National Amber Alert Training and Assistance Program. He also teaches Amber Alert training and writes a newsletter on the program.

Deputy Communications Director Ryan Bruckman • Acts and directs in community theater, receiving tickets for his work.

Director of Law Enforcement Ken Wallentine • Teaches search and seizure and canine legal issues at the policy academy. He is not compensated for the course but does use the POST firing range. He also consults on police practices and policy and is employed by a law enforcement policy-consulting firm.