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(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Utah Attorney General John Swallow announces his resignation, Thursday November 21, 2013 in Salt Lake City.
Swallow, like Nixon, burned by cover-up, investigator says
Probe » Investigator compares ex-attorney general to Nixon, saying both tried to hide their actions.
First Published Jan 14 2014 12:13 pm • Last Updated Jan 14 2014 10:59 pm

A lawyer who investigated alleged misconduct by John Swallow compared the former attorney general Tuesday to Richard Nixon during Watergate, saying both men did things to win their elections and later tried to conceal their actions from the public.

"I’m not going to say the comparison between Richard Nixon and John Swallow is perfect," said Matthew Lalli, a special counsel for the lieutenant governor who led a Swallow probe. But, Lalli added, during the course of the investigation "we found ourselves to gradually come to believe that Mr. Swallow probably did things he didn’t need to do to win the election."

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At a glance

Lawson out of jail

Tim Lawson, friend and confidant of former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, has posted bail after spending a month in jail.

Lawson, who faces a half-dozen felonies, was arrested at his Provo home Dec. 12 and is charged with obstructing justice, evading taxes, retaliating against witnesses and engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity.

He was sent to the Salt Lake County Jail, and his bail was set at $250,000, an amount his attorney tried unsuccessfully to reduce.

His next court hearing is slated for Feb. 3.

Robert Gehrke

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"We also found a disturbing pattern," Lalli continued, "of Mr. Swallow managing or manipulating information, often retroactively, in an attempt to control what he repeatedly referred to as the ‘optics’ of various situations."

Lalli laid out to a special House investigative committee five state campaign laws that Swallow violated by failing to disclose consulting work he did as late as June 2012. He also pointed out a string of inconsistencies between Swallow’s version of events and the documented facts investigators uncovered.

Swallow explained in his sworn deposition that he didn’t disclose tens of thousands of dollars in income he received for outside work done while he was chief deputy attorney general because he wanted the public to know any side work would be in the past.

"It was more about send[ing] a message to the public that I was done with these things. It’s on the record that I was involved in these things and I’m just moving on," Swallow testified. "I want to be the attorney general 100 percent of my time for the public if I won. That was my thinking at the time."

As a result, Swallow did not publicly disclose gold coins that were a gift to him from payday-lending kingpin Richard Rawle, who died in December 2012. Swallow later sold the coins back to Rawle when he ran low on money, with Rawle making payments to a prepaid debit card in Swallow’s name — although Lalli said investigators found no evidence the coins existed. Swallow later lost the debit card, he said.

Swallow also did not disclose work he ostensibly did on a Nevada cement project and $7,000 he was paid by Guidant Strategies, a political consulting firm, for work he did in 2009.

Each of those failures to disclose broke election laws, Lalli said.

"These were clear violations of the statute," Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said. "We thought it was something that was grounds to be removed from office, and we were prepared to proceed."

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However, the day in November that the lieutenant governor’s report was scheduled to be publicly released, Swallow resigned, insisting he had done nothing wrong but claiming he no longer could bear the financial burden of fending off multiple investigations.

Lalli suggested Swallow may not have disclosed the cement consulting payments to hide his role in another deal: his introduction of Rawle to I Works founder Jeremy Johnson, who faced a federal investigation into his business.

Johnson agreed to pay Rawle $250,000 for what Swallow has described as lobbying. About that time, Rawle agreed to pay Swallow for his work on the cement project — ultimately paying him $23,500 — even though Swallow originally was not supposed to get paid and instead would receive a share of the project.

Lalli said disclosing the payments from Rawle could have revealed Swallow’s association with Johnson and the then-attorney general candidate’s ties to the payday-lending industry, which could have been a political liability.

There were numerous other areas, Lalli said, in which Swallow’s explanations for the violations investigators found were implausible, inconsistent or appeared to be more about controlling the "optics."

For example:

• Swallow retroactively wrote a letter and created invoices to justify consulting work on Rawle’s cement project.

• Swallow’s attorneys prepared a deathbed declaration for Rawle supporting Swallow’s story, then publicly said Rawle’s attorneys had prepared it themselves.

• Despite disclosing on his tax returns the money he had received from the sale of gold coins and the $7,000 he had been paid by Guidant Strategies, Swallow did not consider those payments income for the purposes of his personal financial disclosure.

• Swallow withdrew as a manager for two companies in his name the day he filed his personal financial forms, then did not include them on his disclosure, even though he continued to control the finances of both companies and use money paid to them for his personal expenses.

• Even though he was chief deputy attorney general and a candidate for the top spot, Swallow sought election-law advice from an estate planning lawyer, and neither ever read the statute.

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