ST. GEORGE – One of the many charges of public corruption against former Utah Attorney General John Swallow was dropped by prosecutors Thursday. A day prior, an attempt by Swallow’s defense to get six of the then 14 charges dropped was rejected by the judge.
According to The Salt Lake Tribune, the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office gave Swallow an early Christmas gift by dropping a second-degree felony charge of accepting prohibited gifts. The charge stemmed from June 2010 when Swallow and his family stayed in a houseboat at Lake Mead that was paid for by businessman Jared Pierce.
At the time Swallow was the chief deputy attorney at the Utah Attorney General’s Office.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill told the Salt Lake Tribune that the charge was dropped by prosecutors in preparation for Swallow’s upcoming four-week trial slated to start Feb. 7, 2017.
“As we are streamlining and focusing on the February trial, we are starting to clean up the case,” Gill said, as reported by the Tribune. “It was probably one of the weaker counts.”
In general, prosecutors will go after the criminal counts they believe they can successfully back up with evidence before a judge or jury.
The now 13 charges Swallow faces include 12 felonies and one misdemeanor that could result in a 30-year prison sentence if convicted. He pleaded not guilty to the charges in July 2015.
Overall, Swallow’s charges include a pattern of unlawful conduct, accepting a prohibited gift, tampering with evidence, soliciting and receiving bribes and obstructing justice.
Third District Court filings show that on Dec. 21 Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills shot down two motions from Swallow’s attorney, Scott Williams, requesting that six charges be dropped.
Williams argued the charges should be dropped due to a recent Supreme Court ruling and that prosecutors had either lost or hadn’t obtained a “critical recording” involving St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson, a key witness in the case.
Williams argued that the Supreme Court had rendered Utah’s bribery law unconstitutional due to its decision in the public corruption case involving a former Virginia governor, and thus wanted three charges of bribery facing Swallow dropped.
In the case Williams mentioned, the high court vacated the conviction of former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell. In that case the former governor had been charged with accepting bribes. The Supreme Court ruled that although McDonnell accepted gifts from others it wasn’t an act of public corruption since he didn’t take any “official action” as the governor in exchange for those gifts.
As the ruling significantly narrowed the scope of what an “official act” may be, Williams argued Utah’s own law was vague in this regard.
In the other motion Williams said four charges – one overlapped from the first motion – should be dropped due to the loss or failure to obtain statements made between Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings and Jeremy Johnson. Williams argued the recording of those statements could possibly provide evidence that could aid Swallow in his defense.
In both of her responses to the motions, Hruby-Mills said Williams hadn’t shown the Utah bribery law was vague or rendered unconstitutional via the Supreme Court ruling. In relation to the recording, William also hadn’t shown how having it would help Swallow, the judge wrote.
Also on Thursday the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office filed a list of over 50 prospective witnesses for the February trial. Johnson is among those named. Swallow’s former boss – former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff – is not.
Johnson is currently serving an 11-year sentence on federal charges of making false statements to a bank. Johnson accused Swallow of corruption in early 2013, shortly after Swallow became the state’s attorney general.
Johnson accused Swallow of using his connections to help orchestrate an alleged bribe of Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, in order to eliminate actions against Johnson by the Federal Trade Commission, among other allegations.
Johnson’s accusations ultimately sparked a two-year investigation into Swallow and Shurtleff by state and federal agencies. Eventually the U.S. Department of Justice dropped its investigation into both men, though the FBI continued to aid state authorities.
Swallow resigned as Utah Attorney General in December 2013 amid the circling corruption accusations and the resultant investigations.
Shurtleff, along with Swallow, was arrested on public corruption charges in July 2014.
The Davis County Attorney’s Office dropped Shurtleff’s case in July 2016. Rawlings said he had not received needed evidence from federal agencies involved in the investigation, as well as the possible impact of the Supreme Court ruling in the McDonnell case, as reasons why his office ultimately dropped the case against Shurtleff.
In relation to the Shurtleff case, prosecutors filed a motion Dec. 16 asking the judge to block Swallow’s lawyers from talking about the case or the fact it was dropped. They also don’t want Swallow’s attorneys to mention that the Justice Department also declines to prosecute Shurtleff.
In the motion, prosecutors state the Shurtleff case has no reference on Swallow’s corruption case.
“The issues in the Shurtleff case and Mr. Rawlings’s evaluation of the case against Shurtleff do not make it any more or less likely that Swallow engaged in the alleged illegal conduct,” the motion states. Prosecutors go on to say much the same in relation to the Justice Department’s decision to drop its case against Shurtleff.
Swallow’s attorneys filed a response Tuesday arguing against the motion.
“If a fair trial is allowed to Mr. Swallow, a full and fair inquiry into all relevant subjects will be allowed,” Williams wrote in the motion.
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