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Feds won't charge Utah attorney general, but other probes roll on

Published September 13, 2013 3:24 pm

Probe • After months of allegations and inquiries, the A.G. and his predecessor say they see light at end of tunnel.
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The U.S. Department of Justice will not prosecute embattled Utah Attorney General John Swallow, clearing away a cloud that had hung over the office since January — but other storms may be on the horizon.

That includes a continuing criminal probe by two county attorneys — with the continued help of the FBI — and the Utah House is in the early stages of what promises to be an extensive inquiry that could ultimately lay the groundwork for Swallow's impeachment.

On Thursday, though, Swallow said he was pleased with the outcome of the federal investigation.

"Certainly it's good news," said the Republican attorney general, "and frankly it's something I expected to happen, because I uniquely know what I did and didn't do and, as I've said all along, I didn't do the things that were alleged against me which caused this whole storm to break."

In addition, Swallow's GOP predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, said he also had been informed that the DOJ has concluded its investigation and will not prosecute him.

"I wouldn't be sitting in this chair still and hanging in there as attorney general if I didn't think I'd be able to serve out my term and do it honorably and well," Swallow told The Salt Lake Tribune in an interview.

Swallow's attorney, Rod Snow, said he got the call from the DOJ on Thursday morning, notifying him of the decision to close the case, which he pointed to as a powerful statement.

"This DOJ investigation was conducted by experienced, seasoned prosecutors who, the only thing they do for the most part, is investigate public officials," Snow said. "That's what they've been trained to do, so this has been looked at by the very best prosecuting team in the country ... and I think it speaks loud and clear when they close a case."

A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment.

Ongoing probe • But two county attorneys — Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, a Democrat, and Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, a Republican — said Thursday that their work is continuing and the FBI, which led the investigation of Swallow, remains involved.

"The Department of Justice is done with whatever process they did, or did not, go through," Rawlings and Gill said in a joint statement. "We are not. The state investigation, with the assistance of the FBI, continues."

Snow said he wouldn't expect the FBI to be part of the ongoing inquiry.

"That surprises me a little bit — not a little bit. That surprises me," he said. "Generally, the FBI works under the authority of the U.S. Department of Justice. They're not farmed out. But we'll just have to deal with that as it comes down the road."

Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, chairman of the special House investigative committee, said Thursday that the committee's work will proceed unchanged.

"Our responsibility is still to determine the facts and present those to the House and the public. We'll still continue to work toward that," Dunnigan said. "I think our responsibility and our charge are consistent, and I don't have any greater clarity on the facts we need to provide to the House."

Swallow said he hopes the DOJ's determination to drop the matter prompts the Legislature to reconsider whether it is prudent to continue a potentially costly and drawn-out probe.

"I think that I have to leave to them to decide what they want to do. I like to think they might reconsider what they do. But I don't have a vote in that body anymore and I have to respect their [decisions]," said Swallow, who is a former House member.

Mark Thomas, chief deputy to Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, said this week that the law firm hired by the lieutenant governor's office to investigate whether Swallow may have omitted some information from his financial disclosures has issued subpoenas and scheduled depositions. He anticipates the investigation could wrap up by year's end.

As for former three-term A.G. Shurtleff, speaking Thursday on KSL, he struggled to describe the relief he felt when his lawyer notified him DOJ would not pursue charges.

"You can only imagine this cloud over 14 years of public service and, more importantly, the impact on my family and how concerned and worried they've been over these many months," Shurtleff said, at times choking with emotion.

Allegations • Since taking office in January, Swallow has faced a storm of accusations, including conflicts of interest, facilitating a deal to derail a federal probe, and telling donors that they could receive special consideration from the A.G.'s office in exchange for campaign contributions.

Snow said he met Wednesday with the committee's new special counsel, Steven Reich, which he said was a "get-to-know each other" meeting. He said Swallow intends to cooperate with the House investigation, but that will depend in part on the direction the committee heads.

"If they're going to unload all of these subpoenas on the executive branch and start taking, perhaps, testimony and depositions, the whole thing could be very disruptive and very intrusive," he said. "There are some cases that have said that violates the separation of powers and the court has jurisdiction to prevent that."

Jeremy Johnson told The Tribune in January that Swallow helped arrange a deal aimed at bribing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to quash a Federal Trade Commission investigation into Johnson's business — a claim both Swallow and Reid denied. Swallow acknowledged helping line up lobbyists for Johnson, who was a major donor to Shurtleff.

Marc Sessions Jenson, who is behind bars on securities violations, has accused Swallow and Shurtleff of shaking him down for more than $200,000 in favors for themselves and others, and then prosecuting him when he failed to go along with their demands. Jenson said Swallow and Shurtleff took posh vacations to his Newport Beach, Calif., villa on Jenson's dime while the now-jailed businessman was free on a plea deal with the Utah attorney general's office. He produced receipts to back up some of these claims.

Meanwhile, businessman Darl McBride provided a recording of a 2009 breakfast meeting in which Shurtleff offered him $2 million to take down a website criticizing Mark Robbins, Jenson's former business partner. Shurtleff said he could get the money from Jenson because of his plea deal. Jenson said he refused.

Swallow and Shurtleff have denied wrongdoing.

"Today's a good day. It was a day I expected to come at some point," Swallow said. "I'm not out of the woods yet. I've got other people looking at me and I will continue to be as open and cooperative as I possibly can."

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke