Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill speaks about the arrest of former Utah Attorneys General Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow at a press conference at FBI headquarters in Salt Lake City, Tuesday July 15, 2014. At his left are Public Safety Commissioner Keith Squires and Mary Rook, special agent in charge of the FBI office in Salt Lake City.
Feds take a beating for backing off Swallow probe
Probe » Local FBI agents helped build the cases for county prosecutors, but D.C. bosses stayed on sidelines.
First Published Jul 15 2014 05:56 pm • Last Updated Jul 16 2014 08:27 am

County attorneys and Utah political leaders used the Department of Justice (DOJ) as a piñata Tuesday, batting around federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C., for dropping their investigation last year of former Attorneys General John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff.

County prosecutors picked up that probe and — with help from state investigators and local FBI agents — turned it into Utah’s biggest-ever political-corruption scandal. Swallow and Shurtleff were charged in state court with multiple felonies related to an alleged pay-for-play scheme.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

READ MORE: The charges Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow face

On the day of his arrest, Shurtleff used the DOJ’s decision as a shield, arguing the state charges against him were trumped up for political purposes.

"The Department of Justice’s agenda must not have been political," Shurtleff said, "because, believe me, the resources of the federal government in investigating and prosecuting crime far exceed that of any county prosecutor in the state of Utah."

So which is it? Were DOJ prosecutors the adults in the room, who passed on a flawed investigation, or did they bungle a serious political corruption case involving the state’s former top cops?

Don’t expect the DOJ to offer any insights. The department declined to comment on the arrests of Swallow and Shurtleff or on its decision to bow out of the case.

That response frustrated Scott Burns, former executive director of the National District Attorneys Association who once worked as Iron County’s top prosecutor.

"We are entitled to an answer," he said. Burns said it is "highly unusual" for the FBI to continue pursuing a criminal case with local officials after the DOJ declines to prosecute.

"Which tells me," he said, "the law enforcement arm of the Department of Justice truly believed these crimes occurred and it was unacceptable conduct."

story continues below
story continues below

Noting he is not involved in this case, Burns said the evidence presented is "tailor made for a federal RICO case," the racketeering law often used to prosecute the mob and street gangs.

Shurtleff and Swallow were charged with "a pattern of unlawful activity," the Utah equivalent of that federal law.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced the charges at a news conference held at the FBI office in Salt Lake City. Gill praised the FBI for continuing to work on the case and scolded the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section for backing away last September.

"I’d be less than honest with you if I didn’t say to you I have been very disappointed with what the DOJ did or didn’t do," Gill said. "Really this case is not something we should be prosecuting as local prosecutors."

Mary Rook, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Salt Lake City office, said the bureau’s job is the "pursuit of justice," using whatever avenues are available.

"The investigation of public corruption is one of the highest priorities of the FBI," she said. "Left unchecked, corruption can erode the public trust of the citizens in their government and undermine those institutions which exist to serve the public."

The investigation was led by Gill, a Democrat, and Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, a Republican, with help from the FBI and the state Department of Public Safety. Benefiting the criminal probe were previous investigations by the lieutenant governor’s office into election irregularities and by the Utah House into possible impeachment before Swallow stepped down.

"We took this very seriously even when the feds did not," Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said, "and we are grateful we were able to work toward restoring that public trust."

Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser said the House investigation was based in part on the DOJ’s actions.

"We feel like the feds were dropping the ball," said the Sandy Republican.

Kelly Patterson, a political scientist at Brigham Young University, said there are plausible reasons why DOJ would pass on this case. "They have literally hundreds, if not thousands, of cases that they’re culling through trying to figure out which ones they’re going to spend their resources on," he said, "and in the benefit-cost analysis what’s the probability of them getting a conviction."

Next Page >

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

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.