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Questionable ties in Shurtleff’s money trail
Campaign cash » 62 percent of his donations came from sources that frequently raise consumer alarms.

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Shurtleff and Johnson were close. Shurtleff has flown on the businessman’s plane and sat in his yellow Lamborghini.

The Utah Division of Consumer Protection issued citations based on consumer complaints against I Works in 2003, 2005 and 2007, at least two of them resulting in fines and requiring refunds, while two were dismissed.

At a glance

Meeting set

On Wednesday, the Utah Legislature’s Government Operations Interim Committee is scheduled to discuss a proposal to study whether the state’s attorney general should be elected or appointed. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in Room 445.

Join us for a Trib Talk

Reporters Tom Harvey and Robert Gehrke will join Trib Talk host Jennifer Napier-Pearce for a behind-the-scenes look at the ethics controversy involving Utah Attorney General John Swallow and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff. Visit sltrib. com Tuesday at 11 a.m. for the live video chat.

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In December 2010, I Works, Johnson and others were sued by the FTC, which accused them of receiving millions of dollars by billing consumers without proper authorization. Johnson also faced a criminal charge in 2011 that has since ballooned to 86 charges of bank fraud.

Johnson, under a federal judge’s admonition not to talk to the news media, declined comment on why he had given or raised so much for Shurtleff. In the past, though, Johnson has defended his relationship with Shurtleff, saying the attorney general never asked him for anything.

Among other top donors:

• The law firm Siegfried & Jensen — along with two related firms and attorneys in them — gave $120,000, more than 6 percent of the total. Shurtleff was criticized for sending a lucrative contract to these firms to recoup Medicaid funds from drug manufacturers. Shurtleff’s daughter at one time worked for Siegfried & Jensen.

• Usana Health Sciences and officials contributed $110,000, while Nu Skin International and officials chipped in nearly $90,000. Together, these multilevel marketers of nutritional supplements and personal-care products account for about 10 percent of Shurtleff’s total. He backed a 2005 bill that some contended safeguarded their business model — one critics dis as pyramid schemes. Shurtleff praised Usana and the MLM business at a company convention.

• The Tax Club and its associates gave nearly $100,000, about 5 percent of the total. The Division of Consumer Protection cited The Tax Club in 2007. The FTC and Florida in January sued Tax Club operators and the company, which got its start in St. George, alleging it had scammed consumers out of $220 million.

• Professional Marketing International, related entities and associates donated nearly $45,600, about 2.4 percent of the total. Federal and state regulators have gone after these operations.

• Jason Brailow, his wife and some of his various companies contributed $22,600 (with $4,800 returned when Shurtleff did not run for the U.S. Senate), starting in 2008. Brailow and companies controlled by him had been cited in March 2006, before his donations, by the Utah Division of Consumer Protection. He also has been pursued by the FTC and the Illinois attorney general.

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Brailow, one of the few donors to respond to an interview request, said his contributions had "no bearing, no effect whatsoever" on his relations with regulatory agencies.

• The political action committee for Mentoring of America, a telemarketing company, gave $32,500 to Shurtleff in 2008, according to its filing at the Utah lieutenant governor’s office. Shurtleff’s campaign listed $2,500 that year from the PAC. Beginning in 2004, the company has been cited four times by Utah regulators and once by the FTC. Despite the company’s history, Shurtleff asked an aide in a Jan. 7, 2008, email to call Mentoring of America’s headquarters in California and set up a lunch meeting with CEO Doug Gravink and COO Gary Hewitt.

"They will fly up here for the meeting (and bring me another $15K)," Shurtleff wrote in the email obtained through an open-records request.

In fact, disclosures by the company PAC show a $20,000 donation nine days after the email, with Shurtleff the only Utah candidate listed as receiving funds from the PAC in 2008. The Division of Consumer Protection cited the company in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009. The FTC sued it in 2009.

Rob Stahura, a Shurtleff fundraiser, once managed Mentoring’s Utah office, where Tim Lawson, a Shurtleff friend and self-described "fixer," also once worked. Jenson mentioned both of them in his allegations of money flowing to Shurtleff.

It was a well-known practice among Utah’s booming call-center industry, said former business owner Ryan Jensen, that if you wanted to thrive, you had to give money to Shurtleff and, after that, Swallow.

Jensen’s business was the target of an investigation by the Division of Consumer Protection. He attended a Swallow fundraiser last year but did not contribute money.

"When we first got into this, in 2007, we were told from a group [in the industry] … ‘Get some money together and we’ll get you a round of golf with Shurtleff and you’ll be fine,’ " Jensen said in January. "All through my career in this industry, I’ve been told, ‘Get with Shurtleff, get with Shurtleff.’ "

Reporter Robert Gehrke contributed to this story.


Twitter: @TomHarveySltrib

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