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Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes’ name dragged into the criminal case of former A.G. John Swallow

First Published      Last Updated Feb 06 2017 06:34 pm

House speaker denies meeting with ex-U.S. Senate leader, Swallow and Shurtleff at a luxury resort in 2009.

Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes' name was dragged into the criminal case against former Utah Attorney General John Swallow on Tuesday in sensational testimony by once-imprisoned businessman Marc Sessions Jenson, whose own case involved allegations of corruption at the top of the attorney general's office.

Jenson testified at a hearing in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court that Hughes was in a 2009 meeting at a luxury California resort that involved Utah Transit Authority officials, developers working on a project at a Draper train station, then-Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and Swallow, who was a campaign fundraiser for Shurtleff and his designated successor.

That proposed FrontRunner station led to a probe by the attorney general's office, the Utah Legislature and the FBI into allegations of conflicts of interest and self-dealing. No charges have been filed.

Jenson also testified that the group met during that same time with then-U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

The allegations rattled the second day of the 2017 Legislature's general session and prompted a flurry of Twitter posts: Hughes — who served as UTA chairman from 2010 to 2014 — denying allegations that he was ever at the Pelican Hill beachside resort or had ever met Jenson; Shurtleff decrying Jenson's statements and accusing him of perjury.

Hughes also issued a statement, then later went to the House Republican caucus, where he vowed to defend himself under oath in court.

"I want my colleagues to know I have never been to Pelican Hill. I have never been in a meeting with Mark Shurtleff. I don't even know this guy, Marc Jenson. I wouldn't know him if he were standing right here."

He added, "I don't know how we can have a court proceeding going on down there where they can just cherry-pick a name and put me in a position where I have to defend myself against a negative.

"I will clear this," vowed Hughes, who received a standing ovation from most members of the GOP caucus.

Hughes' chief of staff, Greg Hartley, tweeted that Hughes was in Utah on May 5, 2009, when Jenson testified Hughes was at Pelican Hill.

"May 3-9 '09 golden gloves @GHughes51 spoke opening night and attended during the week," Hartley tweeted.

A message seeking comment from Reid, who recently retired from the Senate, was not immediately returned Tuesday.

Jenson is the first person to testify in court under oath about the sweeping allegations of a pay-to-play scandal that resulted in criminal charges being field in 2014 against Swallow and Shurtleff.

It's also likely an indication of what a jury will hear during a 16-day trial for Swallow, which is set to begin Feb. 7.

After Tuesday's appearance, Jenson and his attorney, Helen Redd, said he had testified truthfully, just as he had during his own trial in January 2015, when he was acquitted of criminal charges by a jury.

The purpose of the hearing, which continues Wednesday, is to determine whether a jury can hear out-of-court statements made by Shurtleff and the late Tim Lawson. Prosecutors want to use the remarks as proof of a criminal enterprise. One of the charges Swallow faces is racketeering, which would require showing he was part of an ongoing criminal enterprise or conspiracy.

Shurtleff, who was not called as a witness, showed up at the hearing after Jenson had been on the witness stand for some time testifying about their relationship, which Jenson said included payments of around $250,000 to Lawson, a Shurtleff friend who described himself as the attorney general's "fixer."

Shurtleff was asked to leave the courtroom because he is a possible defense witness at Swallow's trial.

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