Jury weighs fate of ex-Utah attorney general in bribery plot

Jury weighs fate of ex-Utah attorney general in bribery plot

By Brady McCombs, Associated Press | Posted - Mar. 1, 2017 at 5:37 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A former Utah attorney general played a key role in a bribery scheme at the state's top law enforcement office that went well beyond relationships allowed between elected officials and campaign donors, including trading luxury trips for favorable treatment, prosecutors told a jury Wednesday.

But a defense attorney for John Swallow called the case a desperate "house of cards" built on claims from an untrustworthy fraudster to try to make routine political dealings seem criminal.

A jury will now decide which version to believe as they begin deliberations in one of the highest-profile scandals in state history.

Swallow, 54, is charged with bribery, evidence tampering, obstruction of justice and other counts after prosecutors accused him and his predecessor of hanging a virtual "for sale" sign on the door of the Utah's top law enforcement office.

In a courtroom packed with Swallow's family and friends, Deputy Salt Lake County District Attorney Fred Burmester told the jury that Swallow received beach vacations, gifts that included use of a houseboat with a helicopter pad, and campaign donations from fraudsters and businessmen.

He closed his argument at the end of a three-week trial by showing a photo of Swallow eating lunch at a pool resort with businessmen from whom he is accused of taking bribes.

"This is a picture of corruption," Burmester said.

Defense attorney Scott Williams reminded the jury that the U.S. Department of Justice declined to file criminal charges after the FBI investigated. A county prosecutor then took up the case.

At the end of a closing argument that included a slide show with pictures from the "House of Cards" TV show, Williams asked Swallow to stand up. He then implored the jury to find him not guilty.

"He is a man, a husband, a father, not a politician, not a racketeer," Williams said. "John Swallow did not commit any crime."

Prosecutors say the former top lawman formed part of a three-prong team that carried out the scheme with business figures from industries such as payday lending and multilevel marketing.

Swallow worked at the behest of his predecessor, former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, and alongside Tim Lawson, a businessman who had been investigated by the office, Burmester said.

Swallow handled the finances, while Lawson interfered with criminal cases by intimidating witnesses and working as a go-between for Shurtleff and a businessman facing fraud charges, prosecutors said.

Swallow and Shurtleff were arrested in 2014.

Shurtleff, who served as attorney general for more than a dozen years, had his charges dismissed last year. A prosecutor cited infighting between agencies in the sprawling probe.

Lawson had pleaded not guilty to charges of obstructing justice, witness retaliation and other crimes before he died in 2016.

In a rebuttal to the defense's closing argument, prosecutor Chou Chou Collins said there was "greed at every step."

She told jurors not to believe Williams' claim that the Justice Department's decision to pass on the case indicated that Swallow was innocent. State charges fit the case better than federal charges, she said.

"The fact that the federal government declined charges means nothing in this case," Collins said.

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Brady McCombs


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