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Key Swallow deputy on investigators’ radar

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(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former Utah Chief Deputy Attorney General Kirk Torgensen

By Marissa Lang

and Robert Gehrke

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Mar 27 2014 01:01AM
Updated Mar 27, 2014 06:43PM

There is a footnote nestled toward the end of the 183rd page of the Utah House Special Investigative Committee report on former Attorney General John Swallow.

Almost an aside, the note draws attention to another person — a man who was a fixture in the inner circles of Swallow and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, and whose actions now appear to be under growing scrutiny.

"In the course of its investigation, the committee learned that, in addition to Mr. Swallow’s deleted emails, a large volume of office emails from the time period relevant to the [Marc Sessions Jenson] matter belonging to then-Deputy Attorney General Kirk Torgensen had also been intentionally deleted," the report states. "These facts may be relevant to the work of other investigators."

The other investigators to whom the report refers include Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings. These two prosecutors are in the latter stages of a sweeping probe of alleged impropriety within the Utah attorney general’s office. They already have charged a Shurtleff confidant and have long said they may do the same with "others."

"The breadth, depth and scope of the investigation goes well beyond what the Utah House of Representatives’ investigation did," Rawlings said. "They investigated one slice of a pizza. We are investigating the whole pizza."

Torgensen has come up over and over in several probes of the attorney general’s office. He has worked there since 1990 and served as chief deputy under Swallow and Shurtleff, giving him a key vantage point to the office’s inner workings and the dealings of his former bosses.

Torgensen, who declined to comment for this story in light of a new attorney general’s office policy restricting employee contact with the news media, directed all questions to his lawyer.

Former U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman, who represents Torgensen, said the Gill-Rawlings probe needs to play itself out.

"We believe the facts need to come out, and there shouldn’t be a rush to judgment on Mr. Torgensen," Tolman said. "We intend to cooperate and meet with authorities as often as necessary to assist in their investigation."

When Swallow took office in January 2013, Torgensen received a promotion, becoming chief deputy over the civil division, the job Swallow previously held, in addition to retaining control over the criminal side.

Shurtleff also gave Torgensen a $4,000 bonus on his way out of office, records show.

As far back as 2010, emails indicate Torgensen warned Swallow about now-indicted St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson, who made allegations that ultimately led to Swallow’s resignation, and Tim Lawson, Shurtleff’s friend and so-called "fixer" who faces six felony charges in the scandal.

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

In May 2012, court records show, Torgensen and criminal division chief Scott Reed asked the Department of Public Safety to investigate Lawson — a probe that became part of the larger criminal investigation.

The following March, Torgensen helped investigators by making a recorded phone call to Lawson, which provided the basis for one of the criminal counts filed against Lawson in December.

But recent revelations indicate they may be exploring Torgensen as more than a witness.

In October 2013, investigators filed a slew of record requests with the attorney general’s office, seeking a wide swath of correspondence, including Torgensen’s. They followed that up in January, obtaining a search warrant for phone and text messages to and from Torgensen and Shurtleff.

In February, the state questioned Torgensen’s use of his state-issued 2012 Toyota Camry, noting that he likely drove it for undocumented personal travel.

"We took issue with the way vehicles were being used in the A.G.’s office because we didn’t feel they were justified for emergency-use purposes ... and several people were haphazard with reimbursing the office when vehicles were used for personal trips," State Auditor John Dougall said in an interview. "Of all the cases, [Torgensen] seemed to be ignoring policy and state statutes the most. It was the most egregious in the office."

At the time, Torgensen pointed to an audit conducted by the attorney general’s office that showed "everything I did was clearly under policy."

Torgensen also has been accused of intimidation. Attorneys for convicted fraudster Marc Sessions Jenson, who alleges he was extorted by Shurtleff and Swallow, have accused Torgensen of threatening and harassing them.

The House report noted — in the context of the mass deletion and data loss by Swallow — that Torgensen had directed his secretary to go to the office over the Christmas break in 2010-11 and delete numerous emails from his computer.

Investigators received conflicting information about the incident, but did not dig further because "these events appeared less central to the committee’s mandate." Investigators also did not reveal whether they determined the content of the emails but noted the messages may be relevant to future inquiries.

New Attorney General Sean Reyes dropped Torgensen from his leadership post and tapped Spencer Austin to oversee the criminal sector.

Office spokeswoman Missy Larsen said the removal had nothing to do with allegations about Torgensen’s past or his relationships with Swallow and Shurtleff.

"Reyes just wanted to have his own team," she said.

Since the shuffle, Torgensen has been running trainings and attending conferences, Larsen said, but has yet to be assigned a more permanent position.

mlang@sltrib.com, gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Marissa_Jae

@RobertGehrke

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