A unique plea deal offered to businessman Marc Sessions Jenson came directly from then-Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who took a particular interest in the case for more than a year — despite resistance from the head of his criminal division, recently released records show.
Hundreds of pages of emails also chart the tortuous path of the Jenson prosecution, complete with claims of attempted bribes, an FBI sting and behind-the-scenes grousing about a plea deal, which a judge tossed as too lenient.
Jenson, who is now doing time for securities violations, has accused Shurtleff and his handpicked successor, former Attorney General John Swallow, of extorting gifts and perks from him while the businessman was free as a result of a later plea deal cut with the Utah attorney general’s office.
Receipts show Shurtleff and Swallow stayed at Jenson’s posh Southern California villa and played golf, took shopping trips and got massages on the businessman’s dime. Jenson said he couldn’t say no for fear they would revoke the deal.
The emails verify at least part of Jenson’s story — that his plea negotiations were handled with Shurtleff’s direct involvement.
The then-attorney general’s entanglements in the case had become so deep that the office took the unusual step in June 2011 of walling off Shurtleff and Swallow from any involvement or access to information about the Jenson matter.
Earlier this year, the attorney general’s office, with Swallow then at the helm, recused itself from the case, turning it over to the Utah County attorney’s office to avoid any perceived conflicts of interest. By this time, Jenson had become a main accuser in the scandal that prompted Swallow to step down as attorney general last week.
The emails, obtained through an open-records request, represent a portion of the thousands of pages that the attorney general’s office produced in response to a federal grand jury subpoena issued in July. Initially, the office refused The Salt Lake Tribune’s request, but the State Records Committee ordered the release.
Shurtleff’s attorney, Max Wheeler, said federal investigators had all of the information and that his client was interviewed by them. Federal prosecutors decided in September not to pursue charges against Shurtleff or Swallow — though two county prosecutors are still investigating the duo.
"We are not going to comment publicly or try this matter in the press until everything is resolved," Wheeler said. "If questions remain, Mark will address those with the appropriate authorities as he has consistently done in the past."
Wheels and deals » The Jenson saga dates to 2000 and 2001, when he and a friend, Mark Robbins, rounded up millions of dollars from investors with the goal of buying the Mongoose bicycle company and making bridge loans. But when the bike deal fell through and investors didn’t receive their promised return, they demanded action.
From the start, Shurtleff was intimately involved in the Jenson case. A previously released email from a state investigator to Jenson’s then-attorney said Shurtleff launched the probe.
In 2005, the Utah attorney general’s office charged Jenson with selling unregistered securities and securities fraud.
The case moved slowly, and Shurtleff became the focus of intense lobbying by Jenson allies, including a threat to publicly portray the investigation as a personal vendetta because Jenson had once dated Shurtleff’s wife, complete with a mocked-up Tribune headline stating "Jealous A.G. Prosecutes Wife’s Old Boyfriend."
These aggressive efforts appeared to grate on Shurtleff, who pushed for a probe of possible witness tampering. In a May 31, 2007, email, he asked his prosecutors, "When is Jensen [sic] set for trial? Can’t be too soon as far as I’m concerned. I’m up to HERE with this guy and his goons!"
By December of that year, Shurtleff had cooled on the case.
"I am intent on accepting a no-contest plea in abeyance to three third-degree felonies," Shurtleff wrote to Scott Reed, head of the office’s criminal division. "I’m sure this email will be viewed as a capitulation on my part. ... Please know I am not succumbing to bribes or threats."
Rather, Shurtleff wrote, it was based on concerns about the believability of witnesses, "my own conversations with Jensen [sic] and my conclusion that he will be very believable to a jury."
The boss’s directive displeased Reed.
"I have to respectfully disagree with this approach," Reed wrote, "and suggest that this case could be a benchmark for the future in terms of how defendants and their attorney negotiate with this office."Next Page >
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