FEC: Add Swallow to Johnson’s election-fraud case

‘Illegal contributions’ • Feds want John Swallow as co-defendant in lawsuit against Jeremy Johnson.

Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Jeremy Johnson leaves the Federal Courthouse in Salt Lake City Wednesday November 25, 2015.

The Federal Election Commission wants former Utah Attorney General John Swallow named as a co-defendant in a civil lawsuit that claims a St. George businessman used straw donors to make illegal campaign contributions to candidates for the U.S. Senate.

Court papers filed Thursday in Salt Lake City's U.S. District Court ask a judge to allow for the filing of an amended complaint against Jeremy Johnson and seek a "permissive joinder" that adds Swallow to the case.

The government's petition argues that Swallow should be added to the case because allegations that both men violated the Federal Elections Campaign Act (FECA) stem from the "same transactions or occurrences," court papers say.

"Swallow also knowingly and willfully violated FECA's ban on making contributions in the names of others when he caused, helped and assisted Johnson to make a large number of illegal contributions," the petition states.

Johnson was sued by the FEC in June.

The agency contends he used third parties to funnel about $170,000 in illegal contributions to the campaigns of U.S. Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Harry Reid, D-Nev., as well as former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff during the 2009-2010 election cycle.

Under FEC rules, individuals' contributions were limited to $2,400.

The FEC's proposed amendment ties Swallow to donations to the Lee campaign totaling $50,000.

"Specifically, Swallow initiated Johnson's scheme by soliciting Johnson's illegal contributions and instructing Johnson to make those contributions by giving money to others for them to contribute in their own names," the document says.

The FEC also claims Swallow "effected" the scheme by alerting Johnson when some of the contribution checks had bounced.

It was not immediately clear Thursday whether U.S. District Judge Dee Benson, who is handling Johnson's case, would grant the FEC's request.

Swallow was not surprised by the FEC's action, his criminal attorney Scott C. Williams said Thursday.

The former GOP officeholder was aware of the FEC's investigation — prompted by a June 2014 complaint — but was not able to negotiate a settlement with the agency, Williams said.

Swallow "will defend this meritless lawsuit, just as he continues to defend the unwarranted criminal charges filed against him," Williams said.

Swallow is separately charged in Utah's 3rd District Court with felony and misdemeanor charges stemming from allegations of public corruption while he was in the Utah attorney general's office. He has entered a not-guilty plea to the 14 counts and is scheduled for a trial in April.

Johnson's attorney, Karra Porter, did not return a message seeking comment Thursday.

Johnson has said the FEC allegations stem from his 2014 disclosures to state and federal investigators during the multiyear probe into allegations of criminal misdeed by Swallow and his predecessor, Shurtleff.

Like Swallow, Shurtleff has pleaded not guilty to felony and misdemeanor charges and is scheduled for trial next year.

Johnson, who contributed to the campaigns of Shurtleff and Swallow campaigns, is a central figure in their criminal cases and a likely witness for prosecutors.

Johnson has said he had been promised immunity for his statements, which included his political donations, and was "stunned" when they showed up as evidence in the FEC lawsuit. His trial is also set for next year.

The FEC action against Johnson and Swallow asks a judge to impose a declaratory judgment that both violated federal election law, along with a permanent injunction against them and other civil penalties. That could include hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

The 2014 complaint that spurred FEC investigations of Johnson and Swallow also turned a spotlight on the Lee campaign.

In June, however, the agency said it lacked proof of any violations and dismissed the complaint.

Lee's campaign has said it will donate about $40,000 to several charities this month, giving away the funds suspected to have been made illegally by Johnson.