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House panel to Swallow, A.G.'s office: Hand over records

Published September 26, 2013 6:49 pm

Utah House • The attorney general has until Oct. 11 to comply with subpoenas.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

The House committee investigating Utah Attorney General John Swallow put to rest Thursday any questions of whether it would plow ahead with its probe, issuing two sweeping subpoenas demanding records from Swallow and the attorney general's office.

The move came as some lawmakers are calling for the inquiry to be shelved and prompted Swallow's attorney to suggest that the House might be overstepping its constitutional bounds, adding that he might go to court challenge the panel's authority to conduct the probe.

The subpoenas seek records of any air travel or meals provided to Swallow, personal use of office resources by him or members of his family, as well as documents that have been provided to state and federal investigators as part of their probes into allegations against Utah's top cop.

Swallow and his office have until Oct. 11 to comply.

"It's a process and initially the committee needed to get organized, and we have done that," said Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, chairman of the bipartisan investigative panel. "Now we have boots on the ground. We're in the process of collecting, gathering and sorting through information, and this is another step in requesting additional information just to determine what the facts are."

Swallow's attorney, Rod Snow, said he was expecting the subpoenas.

"What does surprise me is that they're making their subpoenas public. It may be more of a [public-relations] move for the committee than anything else," Snow said. "They are re-plowing much of the same ground that the Department of Justice looked at for 10 months."

Snow said he expects Swallow to respond to parts of the subpoena by Oct. 11, but may need additional time for other portions.

At the same time, Snow said he reserves the right to challenge the authority of the House committee to conduct such a broad investigation into another branch of government outside of the constitutionally provided impeachment power.

"It's a fact-finding investigation, which I think creates a serious separation-of-powers problem and other state supreme courts that have faced the issue have viewed an investigation like this as having violated the separation-of-powers concepts that are the very heart of the Constitution," Snow said. "We do want this over quickly, so we may make an effort to comply and reserve the option of going to court."

Officials in the attorney general's office have met with legislative staff to express concerns about the potential disruption that might be created by the House investigation and to discuss coordination of the probe.

"We will comply with the subpoena," office spokesman Paul Murphy said, "and continue to cooperate with the investigation."

The subpoenas seek correspondence with several of Swallow's accusers — most notably Jeremy Johnson, who said Swallow helped arrange a deal to stymie a federal investigation into Johnson's businesses, and Marc Sessions Jenson, a convicted felon who alleges Swallow and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, took lavish trips on his dime and extorted gifts from him.

The committee also wants all of the email addresses and cellphone numbers Swallow has used and information relating to consulting work he said he did on a cement project in Nevada that resulted in him being paid $23,500 by Richard Rawle, the late founder of the Provo-based Check City payday-loan chain. Johnson paid Rawle $250,000 to help him with the federal probe.

In addition, the panel is demanding any records of Swallow's travel and use of Johnson's mammoth houseboat on Lake Powell. During a meeting at an Orem Krispy Kreme doughnut shop, Swallow asked Johnson if there were any records of him using Johnson's 75-foot-long boat, which features a helipad and home theater.

"Is there any paper trail on that?" Swallow asked in the conversation Johnson secretly recorded.

"There's no paper trail on the houseboat. Nobody knows about it," Johnson assured him.

"There's no email, there's no ... " Swallow continued.

"No emails on the thing," Johnson interrupted, "and, no, my wife doesn't even know you were on there."

The Federal Trade Commission seized the boat and sold it when it shut down Johnson's I-Works business.

Johnson has also flown Shurtleff on his company jet in the past. Snow said he was unaware of Swallow using Johnson's jet.

"The subpoena helps delineate or refine what particular items the committee would like to look at," Dunnigan said, "so rather than just say, 'What do you have?' this sets it out that this is what the committee would like to look at and please provide these items."

The demand comes as some House members have begun to question the necessity of the investigation in the wake of the decision by the U.S. Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section not to file charges against Swallow or Shurtleff.

In a guest column in The Salt Lake Tribune earlier this week, Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, and six other House members said the probe should be put on hold so the House can better define what investigators are looking for and perhaps wait for other pending inquiries to run their course.

Two county attorneys are continuing to work with the FBI to determine if Swallow broke any state laws. In addition, the lieutenant governor's office has issued subpoenas as part of an investigation into whether the Republican attorney general violated campaign-disclosure laws. And two misconduct complaints have been filed with the Utah State Bar.

Swallow, who took office in January, denies wrongdoing.

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke