Two former Utah attorneys general were arrested Tuesday on state charges of taking bribes from businessmen and obstructing justice while running one of the state’s highest offices.
The arrests were the culmination of a political scandal that had swept through Utah’s halls of power for two years as both criminal and legislative investigators, as well as local reporters, tried to trace the threads of influence that ran through the attorney general’s office from 2008 to 2013.
The investigations resulted in allegations of destroyed emails, fabricated invoices, free resort trips to California and an apparent “shakedown” by an indicted online gambling entrepreneur who confronted one of the men over money during a private meeting in a Krispy Kreme store, according to court and legislative documents.
Mark Leonard Shurtleff, 56, who was a three-term Utah attorney general from 2000 to 2012, was charged Tuesday with 10 felonies that included receiving or soliciting a bribe, accepting improper gifts, tampering with a witness and obstructing justice, according to court documents. Officials accused him of taking trips to the Pelican Hill Resort in Newport Beach that had been paid for by a businessman seeking help from his office.
Gov. Gary R. Herbert called the corruption arrests a “sad day for Utah” and “a black eye for our state.”
“This serves as a reminder,” he said, “that nobody is above the law and, if anything, public servants must be held to a higher standard.”
After being released from jail Tuesday, Shurtleff denied that he had broken any laws, and accused the Salt Lake City district attorney handling the case, Sim Gill, of embarking on a politically motivated prosecution, which Gill denied.
Shurtleff told reporters he had made “probably, clearly errors in judgment, but I have never intentionally committed any intentional violations of codes of ethics. I have never misused or abused the public trust.”
His deputy and handpicked successor as attorney general, John Edward Swallow, 51, faces 11 felony and two misdemeanor charges, including soliciting bribes, failure to disclose a conflict of interest, falsifying or changing government records, obstructing justice, tampering with evidence and misuse of public money.
After striding out of the Salt Lake County Jail in a polo shirt and jeans, Swallow also denied any wrongdoing, and said he looked forward to proving his innocence in court. “This has been a very difficult time for a my family,” he told reporters.
The arrests come four months after a state legislative investigation alleged that Swallow “hung a veritable ‘for sale’ sign on the [attorney general’s] office door that invited moneyed interests to seek special treatment and favors.”
The charges date to 2008, shortly after Shurtleff hired Swallow, who was then a lobbyist and an attorney for a payday lending company, to be his chief campaign fundraiser.
After Shurtleff won the 2008 election, Swallow became Shurtleff’s chief civil officer in the attorney general’s office, where legislative investigators said that Swallow cultivated alliances and close ties with businessmen in the payday lending and online gambling communities “for his own professional, personal and political benefit.”
That connection, as summed up by the legislative investigation that followed, “resulted in a pattern of benefits, including campaign contributions, political favors, and cash and other benefits, flowing back and forth between him and them.”
Four years later, Swallow became Shurtleff’s successor as attorney general, but resigned less than a year later in 2013 after a legislative investigation confronted him over missing emails and over documents and day planners that appeared to have been fabricated after the fact to conceal illicit financial transactions.
Legislators said that the apparent fabrications happened after Swallow became “scared to death” when a political ally hinted during a 2012 meeting in a Krispy Kreme that he might implicate Swallow in a bribery scheme if Swallow didn’t help him.
The lost emails and fabricated documents are now part of the criminal complaint.
“This is the culmination of about two years of investigation,” Gill told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday, adding that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was still looking into other suspects and leads in the case. “This is where public trust comes from.”
Follow @MattDPearce for national news