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A.G.’s office: Former Swallow and Shurtleff deputy placed on leave

Scandal » New court document says investigators seized cellphone of longtime prosecutor Kirk Torgensen.

First Published Apr 09 2014 10:04 am • Last Updated Apr 10 2014 09:36 am

A top deputy to former Utah Attorneys General John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff was placed on paid administrative leave Wednesday during "internal investigations" into his conduct.

Kirk Torgensen, whose name also has surfaced in outside probes of the scandal-scarred office, had previously been demoted by new Attorney General Sean Reyes, who had assigned him to run training meetings but gave him no permanent post.

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Reyes’ spokeswoman, Missy Larsen, confirmed Torgensen’s placement on paid leave "pending further internal investigations."

"We will not comment further at this time on such investigations," she wrote in an email, "or any other external investigations that may be proceeding."

Torgensen, who has worked in the attorney general’s office since 1990, rose to chief deputy under Shurtleff and his handpicked successor, Swallow.

A Utah House investigation of Swallow found that Torgensen had directed the deletion of a "large volume of office emails" from the time when Shurtleff and Swallow were dealing with Marc Sessions Jenson, who was facing fraud-related charges.

A newly unsealed affidavit also shows that agents with the FBI and state Department of Public Safety physically took a cellphone from Torgensen to gain access to text messages that could be evidence in a string of potential crimes.

The search warrant for the phone records of Torgensen was served in January, but the affidavit from DPS investigator Scott Nesbitt justifying the search remained under wraps until Tuesday.

The new court document says Torgensen agreed to give investigators certain text messages between himself and Shurtleff that Torgensen believed exonerated him of any wrongdoing. One informant told investigators that he referred to the messages as "insurance."

But he balked at turning over without a warrant the entire contents of his phone to be analyzed at a regional forensics center. Third District Judge Vernice Trease approved the seizure of Torgensen’s phone Jan. 10.

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The warrant says investigators are now seeking evidence in a long list of potential crimes, including obstruction of justice, bribery, witness tampering, tampering with evidence, open-records violations and misusing public money.

Records show Torgensen raised concerns about activities in the attorney general’s office. In 2012, ,he asked DPS to investigate Shurtleff’s relationship with friend and confidant Tim Lawson to determine if Lawson was peddling his access to the office.

In December, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings charged Lawson with six felonies related to the Jenson case. The counts accuse Lawson of evading taxes, retaliating against witnesses, obstructing justice and a pattern of unlawful activity.

As far back as 2010, emails indicate Torgensen warned Swallow about Lawson and now-indicted St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson, who made allegations that ultimately led to Swallow’s resignation last December.

"Lawson," Torgensen wrote in an email, "is the guy that is going to bring the house of cards down."

Gill and Rawlings are continuing their criminal probe of alleged misconduct by Swallow, Shurtleff and others.

Former U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman, who represents Torgensen, has said that the Gill-Rawlings probe needs to play itself out.

"We believe the facts need to come out, and there shouldn’t be a rush to judgment on Mr. Torgensen," Tolman said in late March. "We intend to cooperate and meet with authorities as often as necessary to assist in their investigation."


Twitter: @RobertGehrke

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