House committee releases Swallow report; names of Sens. Lee, Reid appear in county attorneys’ investigation

(L-R) Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, former Utah Attorney General John Swallow, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah | Photo composite by St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah House Committee established to investigate former Utah Attorney General John Swallow released its final report Wednesday. The report alleges Swallow put “a veritable ‘for sale’ sign” on the attorney general’s office while doing favors for friends and supporters. Following the release of the report, two county attorneys investigating Swallow, and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, forwarded information to federal investigators linking U.S. Sens. Mike Lee and Harry Reid to their probe.

Swallow served as Utah Attorney General for 11 months before resigning in early December amid multiple investigations concerning alleged misconduct and election law violations.

The House committee’s report

With the year’s legislative session wrapping up, the special House committee released a report detailing alleged misconduct and possible criminal activity on the part of the former Utah attorney general. The report stretches over 200 pages and has 3,700 exhibits attached to it. To see the entire report, see it attached under the “Resources” caption below.

“The Committee’s investigation revealed that, during his tenure in the office, Mr. Swallow compromised the principles and integrity of the office to benefit himself and his political supporters,” the committee’s report stated. “In so doing, Mr. Swallow breached the public’s trust and demeaned the offices he held. Indeed, the committee concludes that Mr. Swallow hung a veritable ‘for sale’ sign on the office door that invited moneyed interests to seek special treatment and favors.”

The report goes on to state that Swallow cultivated relationships from before his time in the attorney general’s office that “resulted in a pattern of benefits, including campaign contributions, political favors, and cash and other benefits, flowing back and forth between him and them. Mr. Swallow used these relationships for his own professional, personal, and political benefit.”

Benefits and favors

The committee focused on three particular incidents involving people and industries that “substantially undermined” the mission of the attorney general’s office to uphold the law.

  • Swallow’s relationship with federally-indicted St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson was again highlighted. The report alleges that Johnson shared the perks of his millionaire lifestyle with Swallow – such as using his houseboat at Lake Powell – in exchange for Swallow looking into getting a legally favorable opinion from the attorney general’s office on processing online poker receipts. He is also accused of providing Johnson with “unique access” to the attorney general’s office.
  • The late Richard Rawle was also brought up. Rawle was the owner of Check City, a part of the payday loan industry, which also formerly employed Swallow as a lawyer for the company. Swallow allegedly promised Rawle that, as attorney general, he would become an ally of the payday industry. In return, Rawle donated to Swallow’s campaign. Swallow is said to have made arrangements to keep Rawle’s name off campaign finance disclosures. Part of the money Rawle donated also went to funding political attack ads against opponents of Swallow and the payday loan industry, the report stated.
  • Swallow has also been accused of compromising the state’s involvement in a foreclosure lawsuit against Bank of America that affected 5,000 Utahns. During this time, Swallow is said to have used his position with the Utah attorney general’s office to help Tim and Jennifer Bell gain a favorable settlement in their own unlawful foreclosure lawsuit with Bank of America. The Bells had held a fundraiser for Swallow’s campaign for attorney general in the home that was the subject of the lawsuit. Swallow’s predecessor, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, pulled Utah out of the lawsuit with Bank of America, much to the surprise of state lawyers working on the case. When asked why it happened, Shurtleff said in an email: “This was becoming a very complicated issue for John given Bell hosted a fundraiser for him in the subject home.”

Other accusations and possible charges

The report also accuses Swallow of destroying and fabricating evidence to conceal questionable dealings with Johnson, Rawle and others. This was also done to cover up his involvement in a network of action committees and nonprofits that were used to hide money donated from the payday loan industry.

As reported by The Salt Lake Tribune, Swallow could be facing eight particular charges related to the report’s findings. They include: bribery, official misconduct, theft of services, obstruction of justice, evidence tampering, witness tampering, violating Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act, and a pattern of unlawful activity

The senators

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, who have been investigating Swallow and Shurtleff, said they found allegations of possible wrongdoing by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. Determining that the allegations were beyond the scope of their jurisdiction, they forwarded the information to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Details concerning the allegations have not been released.

The Department of Justice originally investigated Swallow and Shurtleff last year, ultimately declining to press any charges in September 2013. The Utah State Bar also dropped an investigation into Swallow concerning an ethical misconduct complaint the following month.

Lee’s name appeared in the House committee’s report earlier this week. The report states Swallow, then the chief deputy attorney general, introduced Lee to Johnson in early 2010 after getting the OK from Shurtleff. The report states evidence suggests Swallow used his connection with Johnson to help raise money for Lee’s political campaign.

According to the report, Swallow made Johnson aware that four checks collected from his associates – amounting to $9,600 – had bounced via a June 2010 email exchange. Johnson responded: “I will get it fixed ASAP! Let me know (whose) bounced. I was in a mad rush to get those so maybe I pushed a few people too hard.”

Swallow forwarded the email to a member of Lee’s campaign. “These emails suggest that Mr. Swallow had been coordinating fundraising efforts on behalf of Lee with Mr. Johnson,” the report states.

Johnson personally donated $2,400, the federal limit, to Lee’s campaign.

Reid has long been a name thrown around in the ongoing Johnson-Swallow scandal. Reid’s name was originally dropped by Johnson during allegations he made against Swallow last year. He claimed Swallow was helping to arrange a bribe between the millionaire and the Senate majority leader through an associate of the Nevada senator. The purpose of the bribe was to get Reid to get the federal investigation into Johnson’s company, iWorks, to go away. The report cites the potential bribe being as much as $600,000.

Both Sens. Reid and Lee’s offices have denied any wrongdoing.

Both Gill and Rawlings told media they felt the original investigation by the Department of Justice was prematurely dropped. They both said they hope the allegations they have discovered against the two senators will lead to the agency reopening its investigation against Swallow.

As for their own, ongoing investigation into Swallow and Shurtleff, Gill told Fox 13 news he hopes to have it wrapped up in three-to-six months.

Resources 

Utah House Report of Special Investigative Committee on John Swallow – March 11 2014

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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