Texts reveal raw tensions between Shurtleff, former aide
Exchanges between former A.G. and Torgensen shed light on Swallow and scandal’s effect on office.
Published: July 11, 2014 07:17AM
Updated: July 15, 2014 11:29AM
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FILE - This Jan. 7, 2013 file photo shows Utah Attorney General John Swallow, left, being sworn in by Chief Justice Matthew B. Durrant, right, at the Utah Sate Capitol Rotunda, in Salt Lake City. Leaders at the Utah legislature plan to spend their June caucus meeting formally discussing the possibility of impeaching embattled Attorney General John Swallow. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

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Editor’s note:

This story and accompanying graphic contain unedited text messages with sometimes-offensive language.

In a frank, pointed exchange last year, Mark Shurtleff’s former top deputy scolded his ex-boss in a series of heated text messages for his “stupid” actions that cast the entire Utah attorney general’s office in a bad light.

“I have spent the last 4 months listening to people shred our offices and [sic] integrity. It has been hell,” Kirk Torgensen, Shurtleff’s former top deputy, wrote to the former attorney general in April 2013 as the scandal engulfed the office. “I am pissed about that and the damn stupid things John [Swallow] did. … Shit John made 24 grand on the side and hardly came to work for an entire year.”

The sporadic and spirited text exchanges span eight months, during which time Torgensen rails against his former boss for exercising poor judgment and Shurtleff acknowledges making serious mistakes in not taking Torgensen’s advice.

“I’m sorry for bringing John in, but one reason was to make sure he won so he would keep you and Ken [Wallentine] and Paul [Murphy] and most of our Division Chiefs in place,” Shurtleff wrote. “I had no idea he was making money consulting like that.”

At the time this text exchange took place, Swallow — then the attorney general and Shurtleff’s former chief deputy and handpicked successor — had reported receiving $24,000 for consulting work he did on a Nevada cement project partly owned by the late payday-loan magnate Richard Rawle. Rawle paid Swallow with money Rawle got from Jeremy Johnson to help fend off a federal investigation of Johnson’s I Works business. Swallow has said when he learned the origin of the funds, he returned the money and asked to be paid from another account.

Utah House investigators determined that, more than a year after the fact, Swallow fabricated invoices for the cement project, with the hours he logged on it directly contradicting the time he reported working in the attorney general’s office.

Swallow’s new attorney, Stephen McCaughey, declined to comment on the texts. Shurtleff declined to comment as well.

The Salt Lake Tribune had filed an open-records request for the text messages in March, but the attorney general’s office refused to release the records, saying that criminal investigators asked that they be withheld because they could be evidence in the ongoing probe into alleged misconduct by Shurtleff, Swallow and others.

They were, however, included in an 800-plus page appendix attached to a report by former Judge Paul Cassell and former prosecutor Francis Wikstrom on the office’s handling of the prosecution of Marc Sessions Jenson and Shurtleff’s dealings with the now-jailed businessman.

The attorney general’s office also refused to release that appendix, but The Tribune obtained a copy.

In late June, Torgensen again sarcastically lays into Shurtleff.

“Thanks so much for caring about my well being. I am now living through your stupid decisions and your out of control ego,” Torgensen wrote. “I really appreciate it.”

Shurtleff retorted that the two had worked side by side for a dozen years.

“I gave you every leadership opportunity and praised you and gave you raises and bonuses and did nothing when people in the office complained to me about you being gone so much because I respected and trusted you,” Shurtleff wrote. “I made a stupid decision but did nothing illegal or unethical.”

Torgensen chides Shurtleff for traveling to Newport Beach, Calif., where he stayed in Jenson’s luxurious villa. Months earlier, Shurtleff and other prosecutors in the office had hammered out a lenient plea deal for Jenson. Under the arrangement, Jenson was still under the office’s supervision at the time of the visit by Shurtleff and Swallow.

“I still cannot believe you could go to Cal and meet with Jenson and stay at some posh resort on his dime. That is just beyond comprehension for me,” Torgensen wrote, noting that he warned Shurtleff to steer clear of Shurtleff’s friend and self-proclaimed fixer, Tim Lawson, whom Jenson paid $120,000 for his access to Shurtleff. “What the F. ... How could you be dealing with Lawson when he is on Jenson’s payroll?”

Shurtleff insists he never did anything to hurt Torgensen.

“I appreciate your concern as my ‘dear friend’ that I’m the subject of FBI and bullshit, politically motivated Gill/Rawlings investigations that impact my future and my employment,” Shurtleff said, referring to the probe led by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings.

There is some question about whether the strings of text messages fully reflect the conversations or are snippets of lengthier exchanges. The various conversations took place in April, May, June, October and November 2013, but there is little in the way of context for any of the exchanges.

Criminal investigators had similar concerns — even after Torgensen volunteered to provide them with the messages — and obtained a search warrant in January to confiscate Torgensen’s cellphone so it could be analyzed to glean the full context of the conversations.

The affidavit supporting the search warrant quoted a confidential source inside the office who said Torgensen had boasted that “he had text messages on his phone from Mark Shurtleff that were ‘insurance’ ” and that he had scrolled through some of them and read them aloud.

When investigators served the warrant for Torgensen’s phone, he initially tried to keep it out of reach of the agents. It had to be physically removed from his hand.

Torgensen’s attorney, Brett Tolman, said Thursday that his client “absolutely” disputes the characterization that officers had to wrest the phone from his hands. He said Torgensen had offered to give the phone to investigators but first wanted to retrieve some personal texts from family members.

Torgensen was placed on administrative leave earlier this year.

Previously released records showed Torgensen raised concerns about various activities during the Shurtleff and Swallow administrations. In 2012, he and other senior officials in the office asked the Department of Public Safety to investigate Shurtleff’s relationship with friend and confidant Tim Lawson to determine if Lawson was peddling his access to the office.

In November, after The Tribune reported that the investigation had been requested, Shurtleff chastised Torgensen for releasing the information.

“Really Kirk? You guys released emails of an active investigation to Tribune??!!” Shurtleff texted.

Torgensen responded that he had nothing to do with the release of the records. In fact, it was ordered by the State Records Committee after the attorney general’s office tried and failed to argue the information should be protected.

In December, Lawson was charged with six felonies.

Tolman said Torgensen cooperated with law enforcement, making a recorded phone call to Lawson at the officers’ request that eventually became grounds for one of the charges against Lawson.

The final exchange in the Shurtleff-Torgensen chain of texts came just after Swallow announced his resignation last November.

“Nice final outcome right?” Torgensen wrote to Shurtleff.

“Not sure what you mean by nice,” Shurtleff responded. “The whole thing is very sad.”

Torgensen’s one-word reply: “Exactly.”

Shurtleff concluded: “I’m sorry for all I’ve put you through.”

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke

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Editor’s note

This story and accompanying graphic contain unedited text messages with sometimes-offensive language.