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"We understand this business, and we have these things come across our desk all the time," one of the men recalls Swallow saying during his pitch.
"If it’s somebody we’re not familiar with, we’re just going to treat it normally and prosecute it like we normally would," the business owner said, describing Swallow’s comments. "But if you donate to the campaign, you’re going to lunch with Shurtleff. He’s going to know you. He’s going to know what you’re doing. And when we get complaints coming across our desk, we’ll take that into consideration."
An investment » In one of the meetings, a donor said, Swallow couched the pitch for money as a long-term investment, saying he planned to run for attorney general after Shurtleff stepped down. Shurtleff, who reportedly was at the meeting, said he was pushing Swallow as his replacement.
"[Swallow] would always phrase it: ‘In case anything ever happens, I can watch for your name,’" the donor said.
The overtures were not unique — the businessmen said they spoke with others in the industry who told of receiving similar offers.
The direct marketing and Internet sales industry was fertile turf for Shurtleff’s fundraising, as such businesses poured hundreds of thousands into Shurtleff’s campaigns through the years, and many of the companies that were his biggest donors have since been the target of actions by federal regulators.
Johnson, his family, I Works and his associates contributed more than $200,000 to Shurtleff’s campaign before the FTC froze the St. George businessman’s assets in late 2010. Johnson also supported charities in which Shurtleff was involved. Photos show Shurtleff and Johnson headed to a fundraiser on Johnson’s jet and Shurtleff behind the wheel of Johnson’s Lamborghini.
Questions have been raised before about whether those big donors were offered protection from the attorney general.
In 2009, state Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, took his concerns to the U.S. attorney and met with federal agents to discuss his suspicion that Shurtleff was protecting big donors.
Last year, two former telemarketing business owners, Aaron Christner and Ryan Jensen, said that it was well-known that donations to Shurtleff could help fend off action by regulators, although they never contributed money.
Shurtleff has strongly denied both allegations.
The attorney general’s office frequently met with donors who were under investigation by the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, according to Francine Giani, the executive director of the Department of Commerce who often locked horns with Shurtleff. The meetings, which took place without the knowledge of the investigators, were a frustration.
"I would hope the people who represent us in the attorney general’s office would not be meeting with any individuals who are targets of our investigation," she said. "I think that would be unethical. I think it would go against the attorney-client [relationship]."
Tom Harvey contributed to this report.
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