SALT LAKE CITY — Until attorneys for imprisoned businessman Marc Sessions Jenson filed court documents over the weekend saying Utah's current and former attorneys general extorted him, he was alone in making that contention publicly.
But two former Jenson employees back up his claims in sworn declarations included in a motion in 3rd District Court to disqualify the entire Utah Attorney General's Office from prosecuting him on felony charges connected to the failed $3.5 billion Mount Holly resort project.
Also, a Democratic state lawmaker has drafted a resolution calling for the Utah House to start impeachment proceedings against or conduct an investigation into Attorney General John Swallow's activities.
In addition, Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, wants the full House to discuss the issue. Majority House Republicans plan to talk about the impeachment process on their own Wednesday.
Paul Torres, who worked as Jenson's personal assistant and manager from 2001 to 2010, said he made arrangements for Swallow and his predecessor, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, to stay in Jenson's guest villa at the Pelican Hill resort in Newport Coast, Calif., in 2009. Swallow was in private practice at the time but would become Shurtleff's chief deputy later that year.
Torres described the visits as "awkward" and said Jenson was "especially nervous about the expectations they placed on him."
"Mr. Jenson conveyed to me that he felt a large amount of pressure to make certain things happen for Messrs. Shurtleff and Swallow in order to see his situation improve with regards to the cases brought by the attorney general's office," Torres wrote.
The attorney general's office had charged Jenson with securities fraud in 2005. He pleaded no contest to reduced charges of selling unregistered securities and a judge ordered him to pay $4.1 million in restitution in May 2008.
Jenson's attorneys are using Torres' statement to support their contention that Swallow and Shurtleff extorted Jenson for personal and political gain, and that they're now more interested in defending themselves from investigations into their office's misconduct than they are justice.
Jenson, 53, made that claim — citing specific interactions and meetings — the past several weeks in interviews from prison where he is serving a 10-year sentence for failing to repay the money required in the 2008 plea deal.
The response from both Swallow and Shurtleff has been to "consider the source."
"Marc Jenson's allegations of a shakedown (just like his repeated lies to media from his prison cell) are an absolute fabrication by a convicted serial fraudster," Shurtleff reiterated in a statement Saturday.
Another former Jenson employee, Paul J. Nelson, said Rob Stahura told him in 2007 "that the key to resolving matters with the attorney general’s office was to donate to Mr. Shurtleff’s campaign," according to a sworn declaration. A longtime friend of Jenson, Stahura was a major Shurtleff fundraiser.
"As an example, Mr. Stahura explained how, after he donated to Mr. Shurtleff, the attorney general’s office had largely stayed away from his call center business," said Nelson, who worked as Jenson's head of security for seven years. Shurtleff has repeatedly denied any special treatment by his office.
Nelson also said Stahura in 2007 introduced Jenson to Tim Lawson, a close friend to Shurtleff who described himself as the attorney general's "fixer."
(Jenson) said Swallow told him he was innocent of the criminal charges and "when I get into office, you're going to need me." In exchange, he said, Swallow wanted a "piece of Mount Holly."
Jenson, in a sworn declaration included in the weekend court filing, said Lawson got Shurtleff on the phone during one of their first meetings.
"In that conversation, Mr. Shurtleff described Mr. Lawson as his 'conduit' and instructed me to pay Mr. Lawson for his 'consulting services' whenever he asked," Jenson said. Jenson claims he paid Lawson $200,000 over a two-year period.
Nelson said he confronted Shurtleff twice about the payments Lawson was demanding and Shurtleff "assured me something to the effect of, 'Yeah, Lawson is my man and Jenson should continue to pay him." When Lawson found out about the conversations, Nelson said Lawson told him to stay away from Shurtleff and that all communications run through him.
"It was very apparent to me that Mr. Lawson and Mr. Shurtleff were a team," Nelson wrote in his declaration.
Torres tells a similar story, saying he understood the only service Lawson provided was access to Shurtleff.
Nelson, who has been active in Republican politics, also had interactions with Swallow, whom he says he met in 1999 and considered him a friend.
Jenson, who served time in federal prison in 1992 for making false statements to a bank, claims in the court filing that he had a "quid pro quo" agreement with Swallow in 2007 for a $1 million lot in a planned members-only ski resort development known as Mount Holly.
In their first meeting, Swallow told him he was almost elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, was fundraising for Shurtleff and that he planned to join the attorney general's office as Shurtleff's "handpicked successor" and "heir apparent."
Swallow asked to be hired as his attorney, Jenson said. He said Swallow told him he was innocent of the criminal charges and "when I get into office, you're going to need me." In exchange, he said, Swallow wanted a "piece of Mount Holly."
Nelson said it surprised him to see Swallow at a meeting with Jenson on the Mount Holly project in 2007. He said Swallow told him Jenson agreed to give him one of the lots set aside for those who worked on the deal.
"We talked about how great it would be to ski Mount Holly and have our private cabins," Nelson wrote. "I recall being happy for Mr. Swallow, but I did not see what he was doing to earn the lot that Mr. Jenson had promised him."
Swallow's personal attorney, Rod Snow, said there was no agreement that Swallow would get a Mount Holly lot and called the claim "ridiculous." Swallow said Jenson never retained him and he "walled" himself from the current criminal case when he joined the attorney general's office in late 2009.
The Mount Holly project eventually fell apart financially, leading the attorney general's office to charge Jenson with eight second-degree felonies, including money laundering and communication fraud in August 2011.
Jenson’s attorneys are now asking a 3rd District judge to disqualify the entire attorney general’s office from prosecuting him in the Mount Holly case, alleging a "pervasive and severe" pattern of misconduct and conflicts of interest.
Meantime, state legislators could decide this week whether to look more deeply into a series of allegations leveled at Swallow.
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, has drafted a resolution calling for the House to initiate impeachment proceedings against or conduct an investigation into Swallow's activities. The resolution includes a litany of alleged Swallow improprieties before and during his time as chief deputy attorney general.
The draft is attached to an email King sent Sunday to all 74 of his colleagues requesting they meet as a full body of the House on Wednesday to discuss the impeachment issue.
"My concern is that by holding a House Republican caucus meeting to discuss this on our interim meeting day this week, the process degenerates into a partisan exercise rather than one that considers the input of all House representatives equally," King wrote.
Snow, Swallow's attorney, said last week that Swallow has done nothing to warrant impeachment, saying it would be based on innuendo and unsupported allegations in the press from indicted and convicted felons and a few political enemies of Mr. Swallow.