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Secret recording: Mark Shurtleff offers $2 million to silence critic

Published May 24, 2013 10:14 am

Scandal • Utah businessman says 2009 meeting with ex-A.G. was "like an episode in 'Bizarro World.' "
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

On the breakfast table at Mimi's Cafe, Darl McBride had eggs and potatoes served in a fried tortilla and an offer of $2 million from Utah's then-attorney general, Mark Shurtleff, if he would just shut his mouth.

McBride says he had invested $286,000 with a prominent businessman, Mark Robbins, who had allegedly promised him a $5 million return that McBride hoped would sustain a grueling legal battle over intellectual-property rights between his company, The SCO Group, and IBM.

But, facing a bench warrant in a separate civil case, Robbins had vanished. McBride took his pursuit of Robbins to the Internet, setting up a website called Skyline Cowboy, a sort of virtual bounty-hunting operation aimed at flushing out Robbins.

So it was that McBride found himself sitting across from Shurtleff in May 2009, listening to the state's chief law-enforcement officer trying to persuade him to ditch the website and offering to get McBride $2 million if he backed off Robbins.

McBride recorded the conversation and has turned over a copy to federal agents, part of a wide-ranging investigation into alleged misconduct in the attorney general's office under Shurtleff and his successor, John Swallow.

"He [Robbins] is very concerned, because he can't get any deals done because people go out and see that [website]," Shurtleff says on the recording, before launching into the pitch: "What can I do?"

McBride says he needs $2 million. Shurtleff replies that he doesn't think Robbins has that kind of money, but he believes he can get it from one of Robbins' associates — Marc Sessions Jenson. A year earlier, Shurtleff's office had charged Jenson with six securities-related felonies, but the businessman was free at the time as a result of a plea deal struck with the attorney general's office.

"I think he'd do it," Shurtleff says. "I've kind of got a weird relationship [with Jenson] because he is still under a plea-in-abeyance program. We put him on a three-year plea-in-abeyance. He's got to pay the money back. If he does that, the charges will be dropped. … He's got every motivation in the world."

Shurtleff then tells McBride that he soon will be flying to Southern California to see Jenson and will try to get the money.

McBride never heard back.

"It was like an episode in Bizarro World," McBride told The Salt Lake Tribune. "The top cop is out protecting the bad guy, and he's saying we'll get the other guy who could be going to prison to come up with the money. It's like an unsolvable Rubik's Cube."

Shurtleff declined to comment on the meeting and the events surrounding it.

Jenson, too, has told investigators of Shurtleff's pitch, which he said in an interview at the Utah State Prison left him flabbergasted and feeling trapped.

"These aren't play numbers. These aren't make-believe. He asked me to pay $2 million for no reason," Jenson said. "I was shocked by it."

At the time, Jenson was supposed to be scraping together $4.1 million in restitution as part of his plea deal and protested that he didn't have $2 million to spare. At the same time, he was under Shurtleff's thumb.

For his part, Robbins insists he never owed McBride money — although court records show McBride won a $109,000 default judgment against Robbins' wife in 2009.

Robbins also maintains he never asked Shurtleff to meet with McBride and only found out about the get-together long after it took place.

"If the meeting was on my behalf, it was without my knowledge," Robbins said. "I have never asked Mark Shurtleff, [or] John Swallow … to do anything for me nor have I ever donated to them, contributed anything to them, paid them or done any favors for them — not directly and not indirectly through anyone else."

McBride says he'd previously gone to Shurtleff to complain that Robbins — whom McBride met when he coached Robbins' son in football — had taken his money, but never got a response. McBride went to the FBI, as well, but the agency said it was overwhelmed with white-collar investigations.

So McBride launched the Skyline Cowboy website.

Shortly after a news story ran about Robbins' disappearance and his partnership with Terry Diehl in a development near a Utah Transit Authority FrontRunner stop, McBride says he started getting threatening calls from Tim Lawson, who told him he was phoning on Shurtleff's behalf.

Lawson, according to McBride, said he had lots of guns and would use them if the site wasn't taken down, and later that he would have Polynesian friends beat him up.

"[Lawson] said he was Mark Shurtleff's Orrin Porter Rockwell," added McBride, referring to Mormon founder Joseph Smith's thuggish bodyguard.

Because the FBI is investigating, Lawson referred questions for this story to his attorney, who did not respond.

McBride emailed Shurtleff and they arranged the meeting, which McBride says he recorded for his own protection.

"Heading into the meeting, I had no idea what I was walking into," McBride said. "What I did know is I was coming off a fresh threat from someone saying they were representing the attorney general and they would use their three concealed weapons on me."

In the recording, McBride walks Shurtleff through his history with Robbins and the threats by Lawson. McBride tells Shurtleff that Lawson told him his friends in the attorney general's office could get the money back, but they would need to get 30 percent of the amount recovered.

Shurtleff describes Lawson as a friend, but says he drops names when he shouldn't. The attorney general also assures McBride that Lawson doesn't carry a concealed weapon.

"As far as Robbins, my understanding is he wants [you] to stop the Internet postings and stuff like that," Shurtleff says.

"When I get my money," McBride responds, "I'll stop."

Later, McBride indicates if he could get a few million dollars, it would prolong the life of his company — he no longer is with SCO — and Shurtleff asks, "Do you know this Marc Jenson?"

"I don't believe Robbins has the money, but I believe Jenson does," Shurtleff says. "Supposedly, he and Robbins are partners on some stuff. I think he'd do it. ...

"[Once] you've got your money, you've got to promise us there can't be anything else from you. It's just straight up," Shurtleff says on the recording.

Shurtleff tells McBride he can approach Jenson, adding that "I'm going to shut down my team on him."

Receipts show that a few weeks later, Shurtleff, Swallow and Lawson went to stay at Jenson's luxurious villa at the Pelican Hill Resort in Newport Beach, where Jenson says Shurtleff asked him to come up with the $2 million.

Robbins, who at the time still had a warrant for his arrest directing any law officer to take him into custody, was also staying at the resort and met with Shurtleff as well.

Robbins says he and Shurtleff talked at Pelican Hill, but not about any proposed deals.

"I had no conversations with Mark Shurtleff about anything of substance," Robbins said, "including business, attorney general business, or meeting with Darl McBride on my behalf."

Robbins says he has no idea why Shurtleff would meet with McBride on his behalf.

Jenson can't understand it either.

He had made periodic payments to cover some of Robbins' business deals — including $110,000 to prevent foreclosure on a piece of a tropical island, Little Exuma — in hopes that Robbins might repay some of the $18 million Jenson says Robbins owed him from earlier deals.

Robbins says he and Jenson have since settled all of their claims.

But paying $2 million to McBride on Robbins' behalf made absolutely no sense, Jenson said.

"There was no benefit to me," Jenson said. "It was just: That's a favor."

Jenson says Shurtleff told him to go to his wealthy friends and past investors and ask them for money, an action Jenson adds would violate his plea deal, which expressly forbade him from soliciting new investments.

Jenson says Shurtleff told him that didn't matter because Jenson had protection in the attorney general's office.

"I'm in the plea-in-abeyance [period]," Jenson said, "and they're going to come down there spending my money, taking my time and it's not bad enough to buy everything in the pro shop [at the golf course], they ask me for $2 million?"

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke —

Excerpts from recording of Shurtleff-McBride meeting

Mark Shurtleff: "Do you know this Marc Jenson?

Darl McBride: "I've heard the name."

Shurtleff: "He left here [inaudible] supposedly sold his home, he had to do a bunch of stuff to pay his debts."

McBride: [Inaudible].

Shurtleff: "I do think he is [good for it]. … I don't believe Robbins has the money, but I believe Jenson does. … I've kind of got a weird relationship [with Jenson] because he is still under a plea-in-abeyance program. We put him on a three-year plea-in-abeyance. He's got to pay the money back. If he does that, the charges will be dropped. [Inaudible] He's got every motivation in the world.

——-

Shurtleff: [Once] you've got your money, you've got to promise us there can't be anything else from you. It's just straight up. … I can try [asking Jenson]. I'm going to shut down my team on him. … I've never in my 25 years of prosecuting ever prosecuted anybody who had more friends come to his rescue than this guy [Jenson] has. They're coming in from all walks of life. Mission presidents in Korea saying basically he's a good guy, it wasn't his deal. You're prosecuting the wrong guy. I hope if I ever get charges, I have that [kind of friends]."