Government watchdogs are calling for an investigation of the Utah Transit Authority — and a development at a Draper FrontRunner station — after newly obtained documents revealed the involvement of an embattled businessman with ties to former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
The relationship between Shurtleff and developer Mark Robbins raises questions about whether the Utah attorney general’s office can be trusted to dig out the facts on the Draper deal, which has been the subject of an ongoing investigation in the office since 2010.
Pro-Swallow PAC ends
A political action committee created in 2011 to help John Swallow’s successful campaign for Utah attorney general has dissolved.
The Protect Utah PAC, led by longtime Swallow associate Brad Pelo, was a conduit for more than $100,000 in contributions. Most of the money went to a PAC run by his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff. That PAC, in turn, gave considerable money to Swallow’s campaign.
The Protect Utah PAC did not raise any money in 2013 and filed its dissolution papers with the lieutenant governor’s office last week.
Emails, development proposals and budget documents provided by jailed businessman Marc Sessions Jenson show that Robbins, his former business partner, was involved in Whitewater VII’s development at the Draper FrontRunner station as late as 2010, seeking to round up $65 million in investments for the project.
That is about 20 months after Robbins supposedly parted ways with Whitewater consultant and then-UTA board member Terry Diehl.
The new questions arise due to Robbins’ relationship with Shurtleff, which includes the former attorney general offering $2 million to another businessman, Darl McBride, to take down a website critical of Robbins.
Shurtleff also included Robbins on a VIP guest list for his 2009 inauguration as a "major contributor" to the campaign — even though no donations from Robbins show up on Shurtleff’s financial-disclosure forms.
Shurtleff insists his dealings with Robbins posed no conflict with the investigation by the attorney general’s office.
"There is none. Zero," Shurtleff said. "I never had a discussion with Robbins about anything on any dealings with UTA, Whitewater, FrontRunner. In fact, I didn’t even know he was involved in it until much later."
A state legislative audit in 2010 examined Diehl’s role as a consultant in the Draper project — in which he made as much as $24 million — and recommended the attorney general investigate whether he violated state conflict-of-interest laws.
That probe is ongoing under Shurtleff’s handpicked successor, Attorney General John Swallow, who is the subject of five investigations into a litany of allegations of misconduct, including claims by Jenson that he and Shurtleff extorted gifts from him. Swallow’s office did not comment Wednesday.
Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, said emails provided to The Salt Lake Tribune revealing Robbins’ continued involvement raise questions about UTA’s business practices and whether the attorney general’s office can be trusted with the inquiry.
"No one expects the attorney general’s office to handle this matter well," Frankel said. "They have demonstrated repeatedly to be protecting key individuals at UTA, including businessmen associated with the agency."
Jenson, in an interview last week in the Davis County Jail, said Robbins wasn’t just trying to get him to invest in Draper, but also pitching developments at UTA stations in West Jordan and Clearfield. He said Robbins assured him they would get at least one, thanks to Diehl’s pull within UTA.
"Mark Robbins claimed it was an inside job," Jenson said, "and Terry Diehl had taken care of it, and they were going to make a fortune."
Diehl scoffed at the notion, adding that, as a board member, he had no say in UTA’s development decisions. "The board never got involved in any of that," Diehl said. "I had nothing to do with it."
UTA spokesman Remi Barron said the agency had no role in choosing the Draper developers.
"UTA is very strict in the [bidding] process, and no outside influence or discussion is permitted," he said. "This is all in compliance with strict federal rules and policies."
Jeff Vitek, whom Diehl turned Whitewater over to after Robbins left, did not return phone calls seeking an explanation of Robbins’ ties to the company. Vitek’s company was chosen in December 2010 to develop housing and retail around the West Jordan TRAX station.
Repeated attempts to contact Robbins were unsuccessful. But he told City Weekly that Jenson contacted him about the Draper project.Next Page >
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