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Officials consider next move after Swallow resignation

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SALT LAKE CITY — The lieutenant governor could decide by Wednesday whether to refer a damning report that shows Utah Attorney General John Swallow broke state election laws to a court.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said Friday he would take a few days to evaluate the report and determine how to proceed now that Swallow has decided to resign. Swallow announced Thursday that Dec. 2 would be his last day.

Meantime, the head of the House special investigative committee, Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, is expected to meet with the panel's lawyers Tuesday to talk about their next move.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said Dunnigan will report back to the committee "in terms of how best to bring this to a close, wind things down, if you will, and make sure the work of the committee is available to the House and the people in a report."

But the speaker said that may or may not mean its fact-finding work is done.

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The Utah Democratic party is expected to put a plan of before a judge Tuesday, asking if John Swallow's immediate successor should be picked by GOP delegates or the people of Utah.

The official report on whether Swallow did indeed violate the election code is expected Wednesday, so we likely won't have an answer until later this week.

Swallow stepped down last week, and Elections Director Mark Thomas said Friday it appears there was an election issue.

"There is sufficient evidence to find probable cause that John Swallow violated election code," he said.

Utah Democratic Party Chair Jim Dabakis said Democrats on Tuesday will try to get a decision on the table of whether a whole new election should take place.

"The issue is under Utah law, if somebody cheats in filing or reporting their papers for elected office, they are disqualified and the election is not validated," he said.

"If he was never in office, then there ought to be a general election where all Utahns pick the next attorney general, not just a few Republican delegates who were the ones who picked Swallow in the first place," he continued.

Dabakis said if a decision doesn't happen at Tuesday's conference, at least a judge is looking at the situation. Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said he hasn't decided yet how to proceed with the issue.

Swallow's last day on the job is Dec. 2.

"It's hard for me to say exactly what that means. I'm not privy to where exactly they are in the investigation," she said. "I'm sure there are some things in process."

In addition to gathering facts about the various allegations against Swallow, the bipartisan committee is also charged with recommending any changes to campaign finance laws.

Swallow broke state election laws in five instances when he deliberately withheld tens of thousands of dollars in personal income and several business interests from his campaign finance disclosures, according to the report released Friday.

The nearly four-month investigation also found Swallow's cooperation was "inconsistent" and that he tried to influence the outcome by altering witness statements.

Investigators found conflicts between Swallow's statements and the evidence, saying "implausible explanations raise questions and suspicions about his credibility."

During a news conference announcing his resignation last week, Swallow proclaimed his innocence as he has done since allegations of wrongdoing first surfaced 10 months ago.

Mark Thomas, state elections director, said Snell & Wilmer, the law firm the state hired to conduct the investigation, produced a fair, impartial and detailed report.

"We are happy with the way they've been able to handle the pressures of going through and getting to the facts and being able to come up with the determination that they have," he said.

If the report makes its way to court, a judge could void the election and remove Swallow from office. Whether that would be moot because Swallow decided to step down or whether the law requires the report to be forwarded to the court is among the issue Cox, whose office oversees elections, is considering.

Thomas said it's a civil process that doesn't contemplate criminal charges.

Swallow's attorney Rod Snow said in an email Monday that he believes the attorney general would win in court because the report misinterprets what the law requires Swallow to report.

Swallow failed to report income totaling $58,117, including the proceeds of 12 1-ounce gold coins Check City owner Richard Rawle gave him and that he later sold back to Rawle, according to the report. Instead of paying by check or in cash, they agreed to put the money, $17,000, on a prepaid debit card in Swallow's name. Swallow worked as general counsel for the payday loan company.

Snow said the gold coins were a gift in 2009, and their sale years later was a capital gain that was not required to be reported on Swallow's financial disclosure.

Also, two checks to Swallow's consulting firm, P-Solutions, were not income to Swallow, Snow said. The money was paid from a family trust to a P-Solutions beneficiary, who was Swallow's wife, Suzanne, he said.

Investigators also delved into Swallow's relationships with Rawle and St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson. Swallow maintained that he only introduced Johnson to Rawle in fall 2010 as someone who could help him lobby the Federal Trade Commission, which was investigating Johnson's Internet marketing company.

In addition to the introduction, Swallow sent an email to Johnson as a "friend" outlining how he would approach the lobbying based on his own lobbying experience. But according the report, Swallow was involved in the lobbying effort as late as Dec. 10, 2010, less than two weeks before the FTC filed a complaint against Johnson's company.

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche

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