Electronic records apparently were deleted from computers in the Utah attorney general's office, prompting concern by House investigators conducting a probe of Attorney General John Swallow.
The House investigators' information-technology expert has been working in recent weeks with the IT officer for the attorney general's office in trying to piece together what information can be recovered, according to sources close to the attorney general's office who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
The volume of the lost records, their contents and the time period they covered are unclear.
Investigators have asked to copy computer hard drives, including those of Swallow and chief deputy Kirk Torgensen, said the sources. Investigators also have asked multiple witnesses during interviews about deleted emails, said a source.
When asked about the email deletion, Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, chairman of the House Special Investigative Committee, acknowledged it is an ongoing issue.
"It is our understanding that there are missing electronic records," he said Wednesday, "and that is something the committee has been actively investigating."
The bipartisan panel is examining a series of allegations against Swallow in a probe that could lay the groundwork for impeachment proceedings of the first-year Republican attorney general.
The records issue surfaced late last month after officials from the attorney general's office met with the investigators. Not long after the meeting, Brian Tarbet, general counsel for the attorney general, sent an email to the office's attorneys and staff directing them not to purge any documents.
"You are all, no doubt, aware of the investigation being conducted by the Legislature regarding allegations concerning Attorney General Swallow," Tarbet wrote in the Sept. 30 email. "If you have any knowledge, communications or documents relating to the issues raised by the subpoena, please preserve all evidence and contact Brian Farr, who is coordinating the office's response to the subpoena."
Swallow's spokesman, Paul Murphy, confirmed that Tarbet sent the email at the request of House investigators.
Murphy said the attorney general's office, like all state agencies, has a records-retention policy and, to his knowledge, lawyers and staff complied with it.
Tarbet directed other questions to the House committee.
Swallow and the office have been the focal point of multiple investigations since last year, when the U.S. Department of Justice launched its probe, confirming the federal inquiry when allegations of misconduct by Swallow and his GOP predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, came to light in January.
Staffers apparently were not instructed to put an "investigative hold" on records beyond the normal retention practices until Tarbet's Sept. 30 email more than eight months after Swallow took office and the mushrooming scandal began popping up in headline after headline.
On July 2, FBI agents served a grand jury subpoena on the office, demanding copies of all records regarding businessmen Jeremy Johnson, Marc Sessions Jenson, Richard Rawle and others, according to a copy of the warrant obtained through an open-records request.
The office provided records to the grand jury July 23.
Johnson, founder of the I Works company, set off the firestorm when he revealed that Swallow put him in touch with Rawle, late founder of the Provo-based Check City payday-loan chain, to help Johnson defuse an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission into I Works' business practices.
Johnson has previously said Swallow helped arrange to bribe Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Swallow and Reid deny that.
Jenson, who is doing time on securities violations, accuses Swallow and Shurtleff of extorting vacations, gifts and campaign contributions while Jenson was free on a plea deal arranged with the Utah attorney general's office.
Last month, the Justice Department notified Swallow and Shurtleff that it was shutting down its investigation and would not file federal charges. The FBI is continuing to work with the top prosecutors from Salt Lake and Davis counties to determine if any state laws were violated.
Meanwhile, the lieutenant governor's office is wrapping up an inquiry into whether Swallow omitted information from his candidate financial disclosure filing. The Utah State Bar has dismissed one of two complaints alleging Swallow violated attorney ethics rules.
The Utah House voted in early July to launch its own investigation, hiring a special counsel and investigative firm that have been interviewing dozens of witnesses and issuing multiple subpoenas although some lawmakers have argued the probe should be shelved to save taxpayers the cost, estimated at up to $3 million, in the wake of the DOJ's decision not to charge Swallow.
The House issued subpoenas for records to both Swallow and the attorney general's office Sept. 25.
The committee was handed initial records Oct. 11, with additional documents provided since then.
Swallow has denied any wrongdoing.
Committee to meet
The Utah House Special Investigative Committee plans to meet Tuesday, Nov. 5, at the Utah Capitol to receive an update on the status of the investigation into Attorney General John Swallow.