In 2010, John Swallow, then a chief deputy attorney general, got a warning from a colleague to steer clear of Tim Lawson, a friend and "fixer" for then-Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
"Lawson is the guy that is going to bring down the house of cards," Swallow’s co-deputy, Kirk Torgensen, warned in an email.
That prognosis may prove prophetic.
On Thursday, prosecutors slapped Lawson with six felony counts, the first charges stemming from a months-long investigation into alleged misconduct by Swallow, Shurtleff and others.
The charges, filed in 3rd District Court by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, accuse Lawson of evading taxes, retaliating against witnesses, obstructing justice and a pattern of unlawful activity.
The FBI and the Utah Department of Public Safety arrested Lawson on Thursday afternoon and booked him into the Utah County Jail. Investigators also executed a search warrant at Lawson’s Provo home.
Two charges — the pattern of unlawful activity and one tax violation count — carry potential prison terms of 15 years. The other four have sentences of up to five years each. Lawson’s initial bail was set at $250,000.
Court documents allege Lawson attempted to intimidate victims of Marc Sessions Jenson, a businessman who is charged with defrauding investors as part of the $3.5 billion Mount Holly ski and golf resort planned near Beaver.
Lawson is also charged with threatening Utah businessman Darl McBride, who has said that Lawson threatened to have him beaten up if he didn’t take down a website critical of Mark Robbins. McBride said Robbins, a Jenson business associate, owed him money.
Shurtleff later met with McBride and offered to get him $2 million — money he said he would get from Jenson — if McBride would take down the site.
Close ties • The charging documents paint a portrait of cozy connections between Lawson and both Shurtleff and Swallow, who resigned as attorney general effective Dec. 3.
All three visited Jenson’s Southern California villa together in 2009. Swallow and Lawson exchanged more than 680 text messages and phone calls between April 2009 and March 2013. More calls and texts continued until at least September.
Their conversations ranged from holiday plans to Swallow’s 2012 election to the ongoing FBI investigation into Swallow and the possibility that Lawson’s phone had been tapped.
The charges stem from months of work by Gill, Rawlings and investigators from the FBI and the Utah Department of Public Safety.
"This is a charge we have filed against Mr. Lawson. That is all it pertains to," Gill said. "We are in the middle of the investigation. We continue to work through that investigation. We still have a lot of materials to continue to work through. … This is still open and active and we are not close to finishing it up yet."
Even so, Rawlings acknowledged that the count alleging a pattern of unlawful activity — the state equivalent of racketeering — points to the involvement of other parties but would not specify whom they might be.
"The very nature of the [racketeering] charge means Mr. Lawson wasn’t acting alone or in a vacuum," Rawlings said. "However, nobody else has been charged to date and all inferences beyond that point would be unfair to comment on."
Shurtleff declined to comment Thursday. Swallow’s attorney, Rod Snow, said he doesn’t see anything in the charges that implicates his client in anything illegal and challenged some of the allegations in the documents.
Snow said he doesn’t believe 680 calls or texts took place between Lawson and Swallow. Nor does he believe Swallow participated in a meeting during which, according to the charges, Shurtleff asked Jenson to pay $2 million to McBride. Swallow’s trips to Jenson’s Pelican Hill villa in Newport Beach, Snow noted, all occurred before his client worked in the attorney general’s office.
"John was concerned about Lawson," Snow said, "and went out of his way to keep his distance from him when he was running for attorney general."
Eric Benson, a former federal prosecutor who is now a defense attorney, said he was struck by the specificity of the allegations in the charging documents.Next Page >
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