In a press conference held this morning, the FBI announced former Republican Attorneys General Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow have been arrested, and are facing multiple charges of second and third degree felonies for corruption while in office.
A total of 11 felony charges and two misdemeanors have been levied against Swallow, including receiving or soliciting a bribe or bribery by public official, false statements, evidence tampering, and misuse of public monies. 10 felony charges were issued against Shurtleff, including unlawful acts, receiving or soliciting a bribe or bribery by public servant, witness tampering, evidence tampering, and obstruction of justice. Both men have had bail set at $250,000 a piece, and could face significant jail time if convicted.
“We have filed what we think are appropriate and minimal charges,” Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill (Democrat) said at the press conference, noting that his office could potentially issue more charges in the future. He declined to disclose what those future charges could be, or when we might learn of them. He did say, however, that the joint investigation by his office, Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings (Republican), and the FBI, chose to file these specific charges right now because they are confident in successful convictions. Gill also said that other individuals may be charged in relation to the investigation.
Gill also had harsh words for the Department of Justice, which last year announced that they were discontinuing their investigation of the allegations of corruption in the Utah Attorney General’s office. “I am disappointed with what the DOJ did or did not do…they delayed the process – this [investigation] really shouldn’t have been conducted by county attorneys,” Gill added, saying he wished the Department of Justice would have handled the case properly, so his office wouldn’t have had to get involved.
“Today’s arrest bring this phase of the investigation to a close, but it does not mean that our investigation is complete,” said FBI special agent Mary Rook. “The investigation of public corruption is one of the FBI’s highest priorities.”
All charges are state, and not federal, crimes.
The arrests are the latest in the 18 month scandal which broke shortly after the election of John Swallow in November of 2012. Since that time, Davis and Salt Lake County District Attorneys Rawlings and Gill have investigated the case in conjunction with the FBI and, in early June, search warrants were issued against both of the state’s former top-cops.
“To go through the charging documents would be time consuming,” Gill said, who also praised the investigations by the FBI, Utah Department of Public Safety, and the Lieutenant Governor and the House of Representatives. Gill also noted that he had worked closely with Rawlings, with calls going between the two on a weekly, and sometimes daily, basis.
The scandal revolved around then Republican Attorney General John Swallow, with allegations that he attempting to facilitate the bribe of an elected official by embattled businessman Jeremy Johnson, who has strong ties to both Shurtleff and Swallow, in order for Johnson to avoid federal prosecution. Since then, the scandal has expanded to include allegations that both Shurtleff and Swallow used the office of Attorney General to protect members of the payday loan and other shady industries from prosecution, in return for campaign contributions.
This morning’s events mark first high-profile arrests in the Swallow/Shurtleff scandal, however several other individuals associated with the dealings could still face charges.
“This is a complex, nuanced, investigation,” Gill added, noting that the investigation is ongoing and that new charges could still be filed.
Both Shurtleff and Swallow have strongly maintained their innocence. The two Republicans have also accused Gill, a Democrat, of being politically-motivated in the investigation. Gill strongly denies those accusations, saying that multiple agencies across several jurisdictions were all part of the investigation. Several Republican lawmakers, including House Majority Whip Greg Hughes and Senator Howard Stephenson, have previously spoken in defense of Gill’s integrity, saying “If I were to ever be on trial, I would want Sim Gill prosecuting me, because he is as fair a person as you could possibly get.”
No date has been set for a trial, and due to the high-profile nature of those charged it may take time to assemble a fair jury. The two were booked into the Salt Lake County Jail.
The Alliance for a Better UTAH, the government watchdog group which filed the election law-violations complaints against Swallow, has issued a statement calling on lawmakers to use this moment to reform Utah’s famously law campaign finance laws. Said Executive Director Maryann Martindale:
“It would be naïve to believe that this is the extent of bad behavior in Utah politics. Robust ethics laws, campaign finance reform and voter election reform, including independent redistricting and competitive elections, are all crucial to curbing corruption in Utah politics and for restoring the public trust. These arrests are the beginning. The legislature must also do its part and pass reasonable legislation to further discourage this type of behavior.”
Eric Ethington contributed to this story