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A federal case

Published May 9, 2013 1:01 am

Shift in Swallow probe makes sense
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It is important that the federal investigation of Utah Attorney General John Swallow get to the bottom of the allegations against him. It is even more important that, whatever the findings of that investigation are — indictment, a clean bill of health or something in between — those conclusions have a maximum amount of public credibility.

Thus it is good news that the local U.S. Attorney's Office has handed the matter over to specialists in the pursuit of possible corruption among public officials, the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section.

If Swallow is formally charged with a crime, it is crucial that the indictment not have the air of a political railroading. If he is officially cleared, it is equally important that the public not view the process as a whitewash, a favor done by one Utah-based prosecutor for another.

The allegations leveled against Swallow are serious and go to the very question of whether he can honestly, and with necessary public support, be an even-handed enforcer of Utah law. They are serious enough that he should have resigned weeks ago.

Because Swallow's background is mostly in political fund-raising and log-rolling, he is vulnerable in the court of public opinion to charges that he offered to help various Utah businessmen keep their operations off the investigatory radar in exchange for campaign contributions to his predecessor and mentor, former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson has for months told anyone who will listen that Swallow had brokered a deal to raise and funnel money to a scheme to lobby, or bribe, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid into blocking a federal probe of Johnson's online businesses. It didn't work, Swallow and Reid both deny Johnson's version of events, and Johnson now stands accused of 86 criminal counts of fraud.

And now Traci Gundersen, outgoing head of the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, has filed a complaint with the Utah State Bar, charging that Swallow, when he was Shurtleff's top deputy and a candidate for the top job, brainstormed possible outcomes with another businessman who was facing a $400,000 fine from the Consumer Protection office. He did this, offering to arrange a meeting with Shurtleff and suggesting that such cases would be taken over by the A.G.'s office if he were to be elected, even though his office is the attorney for the Consumer Protection Division.

Those are also serious charges but, if they were only looked into locally, might be written off as bureaucratic turf battles. Bringing the fresh, and more likely unbiased, eyes of the Public Integrity lawyers into the case is a good idea.