SALT LAKE CITY — A convicted fraudster spoke from prison Thursday, saying he provided gifts to Utah Attorney General John Swallow and former attorney general Mark Shurtleff in exchange for legal help.
During an afternoon press conference at the Utah State Prison, Marc Sessions Jenson told reporters both Swallow and Shurtleff were his unwanted guests at a posh Newport Beach resort where he said he paid for everything from luxury lodging to massages.
Shurtleff was the attorney general and Swallow was his lead fundraiser when they made two trips to the pricey Pelican Hill resort where Jenson lived in May and June 2009. Swallow made a third trip with his wife later that year. Shurtleff appointed Swallow, who was a private attorney at the time of the trips, as his chief deputy in December 2009.
Months earlier, the attorney general's office had prosecuted Jenson for selling unregulated securities. He and prosecutors agreed to a plea in abeyance in which he would serve no jail time but repay investors $4.1 million. When Jenson failed to pay the restitution, a 3rd District judge sentenced him to up to 10 years in prison.
Jenson said he was "uncomfortable" hosting Shurtleff and Swallow but that they wanted to meet some of his influential friends in hopes of raising campaign funds. He said the implication was that if you donated to Shurtleff's campaign, or helped him out in some way, it would pay off when you needed it.
Jenson said Swallow implied he would inherit that same philosophy when he became attorney general.
The inmate admitted he wasn't sure how the Shurtleff-Swallow relationship would benefit him, but he felt it couldn't hurt.
"I was told on numerous occasions that this was not how business was done," Jenson said. "It was foreign to me I felt like I was being shaken down."
Swallow's spokesman Paul Murphy issued a statement Swallow first met Jenson while coaching Jenson's nephew in Little League baseball. Swallow never promised to help Jenson if he breached his plea arrangement and he was never retained as his attorney, according to the statement.
As for Shurtleff, he did not return an email seeking comment. But he denied Jenson's allegations Thursday in a Salt Lake Tribune story.
Democratic Party wants special prosecutor in Swallow case
Meanwhile, Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis is also calling on Gov. Gary Herbert to appoint a special prosecutor for the mounting allegations against embattled state Attorney General John Swallow.
"As more and more serious allegations are brought to light against the attorney general ... it is imperative that our one-party state begin an independent investigation into these alleged violations of state law ..."
"There are federal laws and issues and there are state laws and issues," Dabakis said. "As more and more serious allegations are brought to light against the attorney general and, increasingly, whispers of investigations against Utah's constitutional officeholders grow louder, it is imperative that our one-party state begin an independent investigation into these alleged violations of state law by our highest state officials."
Swallow is currently facing a federal investigation into his dealings with indicted businessman Jeremy Johnson, as well as allegations that he violated campaign fundraising laws during his recent bid for attorney general.
In April, Herbert called on federal authorities to either charge or exonerate Swallow, expressing frustration that the investigation had persisted without official action on the allegations that surfaced late last year.
The call for action by Dabakis came after allegations leveled by businessman Marc Sessions Jenson, convicted of fraud and facing more allegations of financial wrongdoing. Sessions allegations followed a Salt Lake Tribune prison interview with the man.
In his statement Thursday, Dabakis echoed those frustrations but called on state leaders to initiate their own probe into the claims against Swallow.
"The growing list of possible allegations of violations of state law must be looked at by a state investigator, on behalf of the residents of the state," Dabakis said. "Governor Herbert, appoint a completely independent, special prosecutor with full staff and budget, and do it now. The people of Utah deserve nothing less, given the mess we currently face and the allegations tarnishing the reputations of Utah’s highest officeholders."
Contributing: Benjamin Wood