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Unsealed search warrant provides new information in A.G. investigations

By Dennis Romboy and Richard Piatt With Sammy Linebaugh | Posted - Dec 18th, 2013 @ 9:44pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — A newly released search warrant in the ongoing investigation of Utah's two previous attorneys general reveals possible criminal charges prosecutors are considering.

The Nov. 27 warrant seeks the phone records of former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, chief deputy attorney general Kirk Torgensen, and Tim Lawson, a longtime friend of Shurtleff's who already faces felony racketeering charges in the case.

State investigators believe the records are evidence for eight possible crimes, including receiving or soliciting a bribe or bribery by a public servant and misusing public money, according to an affidavit supporting the warrant. The warrant filed in 3rd District Court is the first one in the investigation to be unsealed.

Meantime, a special Utah House committee intends to disclose the findings of its investigation into former Attorney General John Swallow over the next two days. Swallow resigned earlier this month.

The bipartisan panel will hold meetings at the Capitol on Thursday and Friday to hear what its lawyers and investigators uncovered over the past four months. While the report will address allegations that are widely known, it is also expected to flesh out matters that haven't been publicly aired.

Also, Gov. Gary Herbert plans to interview the three candidates nominated to replace Swallow for a second time. He said last week he wants to make his choice before Christmas.

Audio recording further implicates Swallow
By Sammy Linebaugh

SALT LAKE CITY — John Swallow left office with a black and white declaration of his innocence. But an audio recording obtained by KSL suggests Swallow's campaign manager, Jason Powers, saw shades of grey, and made efforts to keep potentially damaging dealings involving his candidate secret.

"I believe that the things I've done as a chief deputy and as attorney general have been totally above board," Swallow said in November.

In February 2012 – 10 months before the election – St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson recorded a meeting he had with Powers.

That audio was released to KSL by attorney Karra Porter, who represents Johnson's online marketing company, iWorks.

"You kind of understand the situation, the quieter we keep things for a little while," Powers said to Johnson on the audio recording.

Powers' purpose in the conversation appears to be keeping Swallow out of unsavory headlines relating to the now-infamous deal brokered 15 months earlier, in which Johnson and an associate paid $250,000 to an associate of Swallow hoping to enlist help from federal power players in battling an FTC investigation.

The FTC sued iWorks weeks after the money was paid. Part of the conversation between Powers and Johnson is a negotiation about refunding part of the payment.

"John has a different story about that; he says there were no guarantees. I don't know, I wasn't there," Powers said.

Johnson then said Powers was right. News of the deal, both agree, would spell trouble for Swallow.

"It's just the wrong, it's a bad time," Johnson said.

"It is a very bad time, which is why I'm here to talk to you," Powers said.

Powers and Johnson also are heard doing a search on Johnson's computer for any email exchanges between Johnson and Swallow that might be of concern to the campaign.

Documents obtained by KSL reveal Swallow used as many as four different email addresses from 2009 thru 2012.

"I have a ton of emails. I didn't realize I emailed him so much," Johnson said.

About the existence of the audio and the emails it refers to, iWorks civil attorney Karra Porter said:

"I was mystified that the feds closed their investigation of Mr. Swallow without even contacting us to see if we might have relevant information, and apparently without learning that years' worth of Mr. Swallow's emails were unavailable. I don't know what that says about the federal investigation."

A spokesman for the Department of Justice declined to comment on any specific case. Calls to Jason Powers and John Swallow's attorney have not been returned. Johnson is under a gag order in his criminal case, so he could not comment.

The search warrant describes trips Lawson arranged for Shurtleff and Swallow to the luxurious Pelican Hill resort in Southern California where now-imprisoned businessman Marc Sessions Jenson lived in 2009. Jenson paid for the trips.

Jenson paid Lawson $120,000 to gain access to Shurtleff, according to court documents. Lawson allegedly told people that Shurtleff "brings him in to solve tough problems" and that he and Shurtleff are "real tight."

During one of the trips, Shurtleff told Jenson, who was on probation at the time, that if he had contributed to his election campaign, "he would never have been in trouble in the first place," according to court documents.

Jenson is serving a 10-year sentence for failing to pay $4.1 million in restitution after reaching a plea deal for selling unregistered securities.

The affidavit also describes threatening phone calls and messages Lawson made to businessmen involved in messy deals in which Shurtleff intervened. Lawson sent a text message to businessman Darl McBride saying "he was messing with the 12th richest man in the world and YOU ARE GOING DOWN," according to the affidavit.

Lawson appeared in 3rd District Court on Wednesday for a brief hearing. He will remain in the Salt Lake County Jail after the court declined to address his $250,000 bail, leaving it to the judge assigned to case.

An attorney for Lawson, Dana Facemyer, said he plans to ask for a bail hearing but had no further comment.

Blake Nakamura, chief deputy Salt Lake County district attorney, said the bail is appropriate for the charges against Lawson.

Lawson, of Provo, is charged with pattern of unlawful activity, a second-degree felony; two counts of tax violations, second- and third-degree felonies; retaliation against a witness, a third-degree felony; and two second-degree felony counts of obstruction of justice.

As the House committee hearings and court proceedings unfold, Herbert will choose Swallow's replacement.

The GOP State Central Committee forwarded three names — Sean Reyes, Robert Smith and Brian Tarbet — to Herbert for consideration. The governor interviewed each of them Monday. His pick will face re-election in 2014 to fill the remaining two years of Swallow's term.

Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, sees it as a two-man race between Reyes and Tarbet, the acting attorney general.

Reyes, a Salt Lake attorney, isn't entitled to the job but deserves "a little extra consideration" because he lost to Swallow in the Republican primary election, he said.

Jowers said he's heard great things about Tarbet, but because of his position in Swallow's office the past year, he "had to trudge around in that muck for a while." Tarbet, the former adjutant general of the Utah National Guard, has said he will not run for election if appointed to the job.

As for Smith, Jowers said he doesn't see a path for him becoming attorney general. Both Reyes and Tarbet have been publicly vetted, he said, but Smith, managing director of the BYU International Center for Law and Religion Studies, is not widely known.

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