Key witness in Swallow case: Greg Hughes, Harry Reid involved in 'secret' meetings

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SALT LAKE CITY — A convicted felon and key prosecution witness in the criminal case against former Utah Attorney General John Swallow dropped some bombshell accusations and big names in state and national politics during a court hearing Tuesday.

And Swallow’s one-time co-defendant, former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, whom prosecutors still consider a “co-conspirator,” made an unexpected appearance in the courtroom.

Marc Sessions Jenson testified at an evidentiary hearing that Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, and then-U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, attended a “secret” meeting involving Utah Transit Authority officials and developers working on the Draper FrontRunner station in his Southern California office in June 2009. Hughes was not speaker, but was a legislator and UTA board chairman at the time.

Hughes denied being at the meeting, Shurtleff called Jenson a liar and Reid said he knows nothing about the Swallow case.

During his almost seven hours on the stand, Jenson further testified that he spoke to investigators and turned over financial documents while in prison in 2013 showing $35 million in kickbacks to the train station developers Mark Robbins and others, UTA and Zions Bank. He accused Hughes and UTA board members of receiving $100,000 cash payments.

"This is a really scary conversation to have," he said getting emotional under cross-examination by Swallow's lawyer, Scott Williams.

Jenson said Hughes came to California's posh Pelican Hill resort with Shurtleff, Swallow and others, including then-UTA attorney Bruce Jones, in early June 2009. The two former attorneys general had previously visited the resort on Jenson’s dime.

“He’s with me,” Jenson quoted Shurtleff as saying about Hughes.

Jenson described Hughes as a "mystery man" because he didn't know who he was at the time. He testified that he identified Hughes from an Instagram photo last year and sent a screen grab to his lawyer, Helen Redd.

Saying the testimony has "my hair on fire," Hughes on Tuesday quickly and adamantly denied being at Pelican Hill during a House Republican caucus meeting at the state Capitol.

"I want my colleagues to know that I have never been to Pelican Hill. I have never been in a meeting with Mark Shurtleff. I don't even know this guy, Marc Jenson. I wouldn't know him if he were standing right here," Hughes said. "I have nothing to do with any of this."

Hughes' name has not come up before in connection with the charges against Swallow.

“I don’t know how we have a court proceeding going on down there, where they can just cherry pick a name, quote my name and put me into a position where I have to defend myself," the speaker said.

Hughes later Tuesday said he’s already looking at bank statements to prove he wasn’t in California and will look at other ways to prove the meeting never took place.

Jenson testified that he didn't see Reid in person but was told by Robbins and Shurtleff's self-described "fixer" Tim Lawson after the meeting that the senator was there. Jenson said Robbins was jubilant about the "hundreds of millions of dollars" he was going to make on the UTA deals.

An email to a Reid spokeswoman for comment was not returned. Reid, who retired from the Senate earlier this month, told the Deseret News last week he doesn't know anything about the Swallow case.

The hearing Tuesday was for the judge to decide whether to admit hearsay testimony from alleged co-conspirators rather than put them on the witness stand in Swallow's upcoming public corruption trial. Much of Jenson's testimony centered on his dealings with Shurtleff and Swallow and what he claims they told him.

Shurtleff showed up in the courtroom after seeing Twitter posts during the hearing. Prosecutor Chou Chou Collins objected to him being there under a rule that excludes witnesses from being present other than when they testify. Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills asked him to leave and he complied.

Outside the courtroom, Shurtleff, who said he hasn't been notified that he is a witness, called Jenson a liar. Prosecutors dropped criminal charges against Shurtleff last year.

"I’m tired of someone else telling my story," he said.

Shurtleff said Hughes was not at Pelican Hill with him, and there was no meeting about UTA involving Hughes and Reid there. He said Jenson never made those claims until after he was in prison. Shurtleff called it an orchestrated attempt at revenge.

"He just comes up with one whopper after another," Shurtleff said of Jenson. "But what blows me away is that you have the Salt Lake County D.A.'s office putting him on the stand under oath as their key witness and let him commit perjury over and over again."

Jenson, who went to prison for selling unregistered securities and failing to pay $4.1 million in restitution, claims Swallow and Shurtleff visited Pelican Hill at his expense and shook him down for money and favors.

Shurtleff and Swallow wouldn't risk their lives and careers for free golf and stays in a villa, Jenson said. Pelican Hill, he testified, was about protecting UTA transactions. Shurtleff and Swallow provided cover on the state level, while Reid provided it at a federal level, Jenson testified.

Jenson said he told the FBI, Department of Justice and state investigators about the UTA deals while in prison in 2013.

"There seems to be a lack of interest, when in my view there should be a lot of interest," he said.

Only Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings "asked me to walk him through it," Jenson testified. Rawlings has confirmed a broad investigation into things he said he learned while prosecuting Shurtleff.

Jenson said he wrote a letter to current Attorney General Sean Reyes asking why no one has followed up on his claims. He said he hasn't heard back.

During his testimony, Jenson described how he hired a bevy of lawyers to stave off criminal fraud charges the attorney general office was considering against him. He said he was frustrated that they weren't making progress.

An acquaintance introduced Jenson to Lawson, who told him he "handled" things for Shurtleff. Jenson said he didn't initially believe him, so Lawson got Shurtleff on the phone.

"Tim Lawson is your conduit to me," Jenson said Shurtleff told him. "You're going to have to pay him. Just take care of him."

Jenson testified that he paid Lawson just under a quarter of a million dollars over a couple of years.

State prosecutors charged Lawson, who suffered several health problems, with racketeering, tax evasion, retaliation against a witness and obstructing justice in December 2013. He died last August before going to trial.

Jenson said that in late 2007 or early 2008, Shurtleff "planted" Swallow on him as a more "sophisticated" person than Lawson to deal with. Jenson said Shurtleff told him that Swallow, who was Shurtleff's chief campaign fundraiser at the time, was his heir apparent and that he needed to make some money before he brought him into the attorney general's office.

Jenson said he didn't have money to pay another lawyer and Swallow did a "very small amount" of legal work for him. "The only reason he was there is because Mark Shurtleff put him there," he said.

Jenson was trying to develop an exclusive ski and golf resort on Mount Holly near Beaver at the time. He said Swallow suggested he give him a lot in the development as compensation.

"I resisted for a while but it was all we had that he was willing to take," Jenson said.

He testified there was internal paperwork transferring the $1.5 million lot to Swallow but he doesn't know where it is now. The project was never completed.

2 comments on this story Jenson said he eventually went directly to Shurtleff to tell him he'd done everything he was asked to do and wanted the charges dismissed. He said Shurtleff told him he didn't know if his office would do that.

Prosecutors — at Shurtleff's behest — reached a plea-in-abeyance agreement with Jenson in 2008 that included a fine but no jail time for selling unregulated securities. A 3rd District judge, however, rejected the deal as too lenient. The judge accepted a second plea agreement that also allowed Jenson to avoid jail but imposed $4.1 million in restitution.

Jenson testified that Shurtleff and Swallow told him not to worry about paying the money back, implying that they would take care of it.

When he failed to pay the money back in 2011, the attorney general's office sought to put him in prison. He served about four years of a 10-year sentence and was released in 2015.


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