Ex-Utah A.G. Mark Shurtleff says public corruption case was fabricated as political payback

Chris Detrick | Tribune file photo Former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and his daughter Annie talk to members of the media after a committee hearing at the State Capitol Wednesday, June 18, 2014.

When Utah’s former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff sued the Salt Lake County district attorney and nearly every public agency involved in a now-dismissed public corruption case against him for $60 million, he told reporters to “stay tuned” for more alleged scandal.

Nearly two months later, he delivered.

Attorneys for Shurtleff filed a 73-page amended complaint in his lawsuit against Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, the state, the FBI and individual agents and police officers. The document, which grew by 52 pages from the original federal complaint, says Shurtleff, a Republican, was targeted in an alleged long-running, politically motivated investigation.

Shurtleff, who has always maintained his innocence, was charged with bribery and corruption in 2014. The case was dismissed in July 2016.

The newly revealed allegations — which include unlawfully serving a search warrant at Shurtleff’s home and misconstruing and fabricating evidence — paint Gill, a Democrat, as the ringleader in the sweeping investigation, accusing the district attorney of aggressively pursuing the case against Shurtleff after the three-term attorney general endorsed Republican Lohra Miller over Gill for Salt Lake County district attorney in 2010. The lawsuit also accuses Gill of using the criminal corruption cases against Shurtleff and his successor John Swallow (seen as the most sweeping political scandal in Utah history) to gain political favor in the 2014 D.A. election.

Swallow was acquitted of his charges in March and has since sued the state to reimburse him for legal fees.

Gill, reached by phone Friday afternoon, told The Salt Lake Tribune he hadn’t read the newly filed complaint, but he denied the accusations that he had “masterminded and controlled” the separate investigations of Shurtleff.

“If that’s the case, I have a lot more power than I realize,” Gill said. “There are multiple independent investigations, and they did their own stuff. I just basically did my job.”

The Department of Justice, the FBI and local law enforcement investigated Shurtleff.

Gill says he stands by his work, adding that Shurtleff’s prosecution was handled by Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings. Gill prosecuted Swallow’s corruption case.

The complaint says Gill used Rawlings, a Republican, as “political cover” so he “could claim that his investigation was not political.”

According to the lawsuit, Shurtleff’s attorneys plan to bring in Rawlings to testify. As the chief prosecutor in the case, the complaint says Rawlings determined by July 18, 2016, that there was no probable cause against Shurtleff — and that there never had been.

Rawlings will apparently tell jurors that when he told Gill and FBI Agents Scott Nesbitt, Michelle Pickens and Jon Isakson about his decision to file a motion to dismiss the charges against Shurtleff, they objected and threatened him.

He filed the motion that day, and the case was dismissed 10 days later.

The complaint also says authorities cherrypicked and distorted evidence to justify search and arrest warrants in the case.

In the complaint, Shurtleff’s attorney Ted McBride outlines and attempts to refute each of Shurtleff’s original charges based primarily on those allegations.

For instance, McBride argues that text messages Shurtleff sent while acting as a confidential informant in an FBI bribery case were used against him in applications for warrants without that context, casting Shurtleff as “complicit” in the alleged scheme.

The complaint also says Gill coordinated with media to distort Shurtleff’s reputation and that authorities used “excessive” force when they searched Shurtleff’s house.

Authorities reportedly wore body armor and wielded assault rifles, though the allegations against Shurtleff weren’t related to violence.

Shurtleff wasn’t home during the search, but his children were reportedly “threatened, seized, searched and physically, verbally and emotionally abused,” according to the complaint.

In a news release, McBride characterizes the new complaint as the first step for Shurtleff “to regain his reputation.”

“Mr. Shurtleff never solicited a bribe, accepted a bribe, or did anything contrary to the best interests of the state of Utah,” McBride said.

Shurtleff is seeking $60 million for emotional distress and humiliation he and his family suffered and $20 million in lost wages and medical expenses, in addition to attorney fees and punitive damages.