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Poker debate pops up in Johnson-Swallow meeting, emails
Scandal » Businessman wanted A.G. to sign off on legality of processing online game payments.

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But, Pappas said, it became clear that Shurtleff thought that poker was illegal in Utah — no matter whether it was a game of skill or chance — and thus would issue no such opinion.

"I told them straight up I didn’t think that would be possible," Shurtleff said in an interview. "That’s No. 1. No. 2, I said we don’t give opinions to individuals."

At a glance

The Swallow case

Indicted St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson has alleged that Utah’s new attorney general, John Swallow, helped broker payoffs to enlist the aid of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in derailing a Federal Trade Commission investigation of Johnson’s I Works business.

Swallow and Reid have vehemently denied the allegations. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is investigating.

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After the meeting, Ifrah wrote to Johnson: "At this point, I am trying to figure out how Mark can help you. Also, he totally loves you, talked about how you were the top businessman with the most integrity etc."

Johnson replied, "Mark is a really great guy that will shoot straight with you."

At some point, the discussion in the Johnson-Swallow emails — which Swallow sent from a private account — shifts to whether Swallow could help bolster the contention that processing poker payments in Utah is legal.

On July 4, 2010, about seven months after they had started processing payments, Johnson pushed Swallow in an email to back his position.

"We have decided that the law is unclear on if poker is legal to play online if you are residing in Utah, so we are blocking transactions from anyone in Utah. But we still think it is legal to process the transactions for other states and countries. Let me know your thoughts."

That’s when Swallow wrote back, saying he knew of no state law forbidding it but adding that the Attorney General’s Office would have to check further.

That was the end of the emails to which Johnson provided access.

The Salt Lake Tribune filed an open-records request in 2011 for documents related to the processing of gambling payments and was told that none existed. It also inquired specifically about Shurtleff’s meeting with Pappas and was told it was merely a courtesy call.

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Murphy said Swallow did not use his state email account because Johnson likely contacted him on Swallow’s personal account and he merely hit reply.

Johnson’s attorney did not return a fax seeking comment. Ifrah said he could not comment without Johnson’s consent.

In November 2010, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. ordered SunFirst Bank to stop processing poker payments and that ended Johnson’s efforts.

Then, in April 2011, a U.S. attorney in New York announced the indictment of a number of those involved in poker processing in Utah and other places — including SunFirst Bank Vice Chairman John Campos and Elie, Johnson’s business partner — for violations of federal law, which prosecutors contend prohibits processing poker payments.

Campos pleaded guilty to a minor charge and was sentenced to three months in prison. Elie also pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five months in prison.

Johnson was not charged in the case, though the Federal Trade Commission sued him and his online sales and marketing company I Works in December 2010 for allegedly violating federal consumer-protection laws. About six months later, he was indicted on a felony fraud charge.

Robert Gehrke contributed to this story.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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