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Man who recorded call to John Swallow faces state lawsuit

Published April 28, 2014 8:29 pm

Consumers • Agency cites continued violations by telemarketing firms.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

State regulators are again suing two Utah businessmen who allegedly ran a number of illegal telemarketing operations and who, in 2012, met with then-Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and his soon-to-be successor, John Swallow, to try to enlist their help in fighting a previous action.

The state Division of Consumer Protection is seeking a permanent injunction against Aaron Vincent Christner and Ryan Scott Jensen to try to halt their alleged serial violations of Utah laws, including by two new companies that followed on the heels of sanctions directed toward at least seven previous businesses that sold "coaching" and other services to help start online businesses.

Christner recorded a phone call he had with Swallow on April 7, 2012, in which Christner appeared to want help in overturning a $400,000 judgment against Jensen and himself.

Swallow, then-chief deputy attorney general and running to replace Shurtleff in the top job, suggested setting up a meeting with Shurtleff and told Christner that, if elected, he planned to take the "dysfunctional" Division of Consumer Protection away from the Commerce Department and put it under his control.

The recorded conversation was the subject of a complaint to the Utah State Bar by former division Director Traci Gundersen, who pointed to Christner's mentioning he might attend a fundraising breakfast being held at Mimi's Cafe in Sandy for Swallow's campaign.

Gundersen alleged it was improper for Swallow to have engaged in such a conversation with someone who was the subject of a state legal action involving the attorney general's office — since that office represents the consumer division.

The bar dismissed Gundersen's complaint.

A few days after the phone conversation, Jensen emailed Swallow and Shurtleff on April 11 to follow up on their meeting at Mimi's.

Jensen thanked them for "your pro-business thoughts, experiences and opening a hand to not only this industry but to the public and this community as well." Jensen also wished Swallow well in his campaign and invited him for a visit to the telemarketing office, according to an email that turned up in the investigation of Swallow by a special Utah House committee.

The conversation and meeting were part of the panel's probe, which found Swallow had operated a "pay-to-play" scheme in which he solicited campaign and other funds from people in certain companies under state regulatory scrutiny or in industries prone to such actions.

The lawsuit says that despite the previous regulatory actions against companies operated by Christner and Jensen, the two created two new entities — K-Street and One-Touch Media — and continued to make telemarketing sales through them without being registered with the state or being bonded.

In an interview Monday, Christner insisted he did not own One-Touch Media and that K-Street was not conducting telemarketing sales in Utah. He outlined a conspiracy against him involving lawyers, politicians and the Division of Consumer Protection.

"Utah, once again, those who live in glass houses shall not throw stones," he said. "Want to throw stones at me? Let's go to war. I will sue the state of Utah for harassment."

Jensen also denied the allegations and pointed to a vendetta.

"I could be selling Popsicles on the corner," he said, "and these guys would be saying I'm selling websites."

The suit seeks a permanent injunction against the two that prohibits them from having any relationship with a company in Utah that is regulated by the Division of Consumer Protection. It asks that they be required to pay previous fines, which amount to about $450,000.

A Department of Commerce spokeswoman declined comment on the lawsuit.

Christner is also known as Vince Scarpuzzi and Aaron Cassidy, while Jensen also uses the name Ari Schwimmer, according to the lawsuit.

tharvey@sltrib.com

Twitter: @TomHarveySltrib