Fate of ex-AG John Swallow now in jurors' hands

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SALT LAKE CITY — After four years of federal and state investigations, 2 1/2 years of legal maneuvering and four weeks on trial, the fate of former Utah Attorney General John Swallow now rests with eight Utahns.

Third District Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills handed the case to the five-man, three-woman jury Wednesday afternoon after the prosecution and the defense made their closing arguments. They will sift through the testimony of 30 witnesses and 150 pieces evidence in making their decision.

Jurors deliberated for about 3 1/2 hours Wednesday before going home for the night. They are scheduled to return Thursday morning.

Deputy Salt Lake County district attorney Chou Chou Collins broke down each of the charges for the jury, while punctuating the state's theory of the case in her rebuttal of the defense's closing statements.

"It’s the power. It’s the greed. It is corruption. That’s what happened," she said.

Prosecutors allege Swallow alone — and sometimes with former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and his "fixer" the late Tim Lawson — solicited campaign contributions from the telemarketing, negative option marketing and payday loan industries in exchange for help on specific issues and favorable treatment by the attorney general's office.

Shurtleff was the lead, Lawson the muscle and Swallow the money man to further their political and financial aspirations, prosecutors say.

"John Swallow was just the trainee at the beginning," Collins said, adding it became "real" when he was elected attorney general in 2012. Swallow served 11 months before resigning under fire in December 2013.

Swallow's attorney, Scott Williams, said in his closing argument that the state's case is built on a house of cards. He said there is no "triangle of conspiracy."

"It doesn't take much to bring it down," he told jurors. "It's your job to see if there's anything there to take it down."

The case "didn't have wheels from the start" and the state created a narrative using "inventigation," Williams said. He noted that much of the testimony early in the trial was about Shurtleff and Lawson, not Swallow. Williams called it "trial by proxy."

As he finished his argument, Williams had an emotional Swallow, who did not testify during the trial, stand up next to him at the defense table and face the jury.

"John Swallow did not commit a crime. This is not politics," he said, telling the jury the only "humane" verdict is not guilty on all charges.

Williams told reporters afterward that Swallow spent four weeks sitting across the courtroom from his peers "and he needed the opportunity to stand up and be seen by them and known for who he is, a man falsely accused." He said Swallow was confident before the trial started and remains confident he will be acquitted.

Swallow was charged with 12 felonies and one misdemeanor when the trial started on Feb. 7. Prosecutors have since dropped four of the felonies, three of them because a key witness, imprisoned St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson, refused to testify.

"I trust our process and we kept our focus even as dynamics changed and we advocated the public interest in every legal issue before the court to get it trial and then get it to the jury," said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.

Swallow, 54, now faces nine charges: pattern of unlawful activity, accepting a gift, two counts of receiving or soliciting a bribe, and making false statements, all second-degree felonies with potential penalties of one to 15 years in prison; evidence tampering, misuse of public money and obstruction of justice, all third-degree felonies with potential penalties of zero to five years in prison; and falsifying a government record, a class B misdemeanor.

Williams noted that only one witness mentioned pay-for-play during his testimony. Jonathan Eborn said Shurtleff used the term in air quotes during a meeting with the telemarketing industry.

"There's no pay-for-play in this case," Williams said.

The state relied heavily on the testimony of Marc Sessions Jenson, a convicted felon who testified that the three men extorted him for money and favors. Jenson testified that he paid for the trips Shurtleff, Swallow and Lawson took to the upscale Pelican Hill resort in Southern California where he lived in 2009.

"That speaks for everything," Collins said.

Deputy district attorney Fred Burmester said Shurtleff had Jenson "over a barrel" because of his plea deal with the attorney general's office. He said Swallow got his power from Shurtleff and told Jenson he was the attorney general's heir-apparent and that Jenson would need a friend in the office.

Williams said Jenson is a liar and an unreliable witness. He called him a "career fraudster with 4.1 million reasons to lie," referring to the $4.1 million Jenson owed as part of his plea agreement.

Collins said for Shurtleff, Swallow and Lawson, people like Jenson were "disposable" and they used them and discarded them.

Burmester told jurors to be "that wise king" as they decide whether the former attorney general is guilty or innocent of public corruption. He methodically went through the elements of each of the alleged crimes against Swallow. He concluded by showing a photo of Swallow, Shurtleff and others eating lunch at the posh Pelican Hill resort in Southern California, suggesting it depicted corruption, greed and power. He said the state has proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

"I ask you to find the defendant guilty," he said.

Attorneys told jurors they can't consider the racketeering charge unless they convict Swallow on any three of the two bribery, witness tampering and obstruction of justice charges.

Williams said outside the courtroom that Gill had political motivations in filing charges against Swallow after the Department of Justice Public Integrity Section declined to prosecute him in September 2013.

Gill responded by saying he expects the defense to vigorously defend its client "whether factually true or not."

"I believe in our process, and we have made our arguments about the case in court. I expect anyone charged of criminal wrongdoing to disagree with our decision but that there is a presumption of innocence and a judicial process," he said.

Swallow has maintained his innocence since he was arrested along with Shurtleff in July 2015. Initially charged as co-defendants, the case against the two former GOP officeholders was split.

Gill took the Swallow case, while Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings took the Shurtleff case. Rawlings ultimately dropped the charges against Shurtleff last summer. Lawson also faced criminal charges but died before the case was resolved.

It was never an easy case, Gill said. He said it was one of the most complex cases with layers of relationships, agencies and issues.

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Dennis Romboy


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