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Mark Shurtleff's 'fixer' caused angst in Utah A.G.'s office

Published November 13, 2013 7:04 pm

Lawson • Shurtleff's deputies had the man investigated — and an outside prosecutor still could bring charges.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

For years, Tim Lawson traded on his friendship with then-Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, popping up in numerous cases even though he never worked in the attorney general's office.

It escalated to the point that, in 2012, Shurtleff's top deputies, without the attorney general's knowledge, referred Lawson's activities for potential criminal prosecution, according to documents newly obtained under an open-records request.

The potential for charges against Lawson remains, according to Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, who was given the matter to avoid conflicts of interest within the attorney general's office.

It's unclear what charges were considered, but two cases were highlighted in correspondence about Lawson's activities — one included Lawson berating Colorado doctor Jeffrey Donner, who had lost money in Marc Jenson's Mount Holly ski and golf development; the other zeroed in on threats Lawson allegedly made against Darl McBride, who publicly accused Jenson's former business partner, Mark Robbins, of cheating him out of $286,000.

In Donner's case, emails show Lawson claimed Shurtleff asked him to help resolve Donner's dispute with Jenson. Lawson invoked his friendship with the attorney general to try to get Donner to back off. When that failed, Lawson unleashed a tirade.

"I believe that your insecurities, penis envy or the fact that you are [a] sad and lonely shell of a man will stop you from doing the right things to correct this," Lawson wrote to Donner. "It is your money, your life and ultimately your very lonely death in the end that will be a testament to how you lived."

Meanwhile, McBride has alleged that Lawson — sometimes dubbed Shurtleff's "fixer" — threatened him by saying he had lots of guns and would use them if McBride didn't take down an anti-Robbins website.

Lawson, McBride said, called himself "Mark Shurtleff's Orrin Porter Rockwell," referring to the enforcer for early Mormon leaders Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.

In McBride's case, Shurtleff eventually intervened directly. In a breakfast meeting at Mimi's Cafe, the attorney general offered to get McBride $2 million if he would ease up on Robbins.

Those were just two instances in which Lawson got involved in activities of the attorney general's office.

In spring 2012, senior attorneys in the office referred Lawson's actions to Scott Nesbitt, an investigator with the Utah Department of Public Safety.

Last last year, Nesbitt brought his findings to the office's prosecutors. Because of the conflict of interest, they then referred the matter to Rawlings.

On Valentine's Day of this year, three top officials in the attorney general's office — criminal-division chief Scott Reed, chief deputy Kirk Torgensen and chief of law enforcement Ken Wallentine — met with Rawlings to discuss the case.

In an email after the meeting, Rawlings voiced concerns about Shurtleff's activities — as well as Lawson's — and said an investigation should be done to determine if the then-attorney general condoned Lawson's actions.

"Questions about Mark Shurtleff's relationship with Tim Lawson need to be answered with some degree of certainty. At the very least, Shurtleff was aware of Lawson's activities and the using [of] the A.G.'s name and position to get gain and make a living," Rawlings wrote. " ... Was the gain shared in any way? What did Lawson actually do for Shurtleff? Why did Shurtleff tolerate Lawson's antics?"

Rawlings said in a statement Tuesday that Nesbitt's "quality investigation" had "revealed substantive corroboration of multiple concerns."

"The DPS investigation," he said, "also contained information and analysis that mandated the inquiry into Tim Lawson be continued and expanded."

Indeed, Lawson acknowledged in May that Nesbitt and FBI agent Jon Isakson had visited him at his house and requested an interview.

Lawson did not respond to a request for a comment Tuesday. Shurtleff referred questions to his attorney, who did not respond.

Lawson — and his relationship with Shurtleff — appears to have been a thorn in the side of higher-ups in the attorney general's office for years. He surfaced again and again in matters the office was investigating, working on behalf of targets to either wield influence with Shurtleff or get complainants to ratchet down their anger.

Jenson, for example, said he paid Lawson a six-figure sum over 18 months and entertained Lawson, Shurtleff and the current attorney general, John Swallow, at his villa in Newport Beach, Calif. Jenson said he was promised that Lawson could help deal with charges filed by the attorney general's office.

Lawson said in May that Jenson had hired him to keep investors at bay while Jenson scraped together money to repay them. But Lawson insisted he never promised access to Shurtleff, calling Jenson a "pathological liar."

Lawson was also hired by Brian Kitts, who was a target of the Utah Division of Securities at the time. Kitts said in a recent interview that he was told Lawson had "direct connections to the attorney general's office. He's good friends with Mark Shurtleff."

Kitts said Lawson told him he had a problem. Kitts had prevailed in a court case against George Evan Bybee, a former business partner of Swallow, who wasn't working in the attorney general's office at the time. Kitts said Lawson wanted $20,000 to get in the hands of the right people. He later asked for another $9,000 for Shurtleff's campaign. Kitts refused.

Despite what may have been bluster about his ties to Shurtleff, Lawson was a major rainmaker for Shurtleff's campaigns. According to office emails, Lawson arranged numerous meetings during which some of Shurtleff's biggest donors — including Mentoring of America and St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson — kicked in tens of thousands toward the attorney general's campaigns. Shurtleff listed Lawson among his handpicked VIP guests for his 2009 inauguration.

In his 2009 meeting with McBride, Shurtleff explained that he struck up a friendship with Lawson after the latter made a dark-horse bid for governor in 2000.

"He introduced me to some people who I made a relationship with and they became contributors to my campaign," Shurtleff told McBride, who recorded the meeting. "I'm always worried he's out there saying, 'Hey, if you give Shurtleff $10,000, he'll be your guy.' "

In 2010, Torgensen told Swallow, then Shurtleff's new chief deputy, that, while he had concerns about Johnson — the I Works founder now under federal indictment who has leveled a bribery allegation against Swallow — Lawson was the bigger worry.

"Lawson is the guy," Torgensen wrote in an email, "that is going to bring the house of cards down."

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke