Does Utah Have a Bribery Problem?

by | July 15, 2014

By Matt Pearce

Two former Utah attorneys general were arrested Tuesday on charges that both men had taken bribes from businessmen and obstructed justice in an influence-peddling scheme run out of one of the state's highest offices.

Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert called the arrests a "sad day for Utah" and "a black eye for our state," adding that "this serves as a reminder that nobody is above the law and, if anything, public servants must be held to a higher standard."

Mark Leonard Shurtleff, 56 _ who was a three-term Utah attorney general from 2000 to 2012 _ was charged Tuesday with 10 felonies that included receiving or soliciting a bribe, accepting improper gifts, tampering with a witness and obstructing justice, according to court documents.

His deputy and successor, John Edward Swallow, 51, faces 11 felony and two misdemeanor charges, including soliciting bribes, failure to disclose a conflict of interest, falsifying or changing government records, obstructing justice, tampering with evidence and misuse of public money.

The arrests come four months after a state legislative investigation alleged that Swallow "hung a veritable 'for sale' sign on the (Attorney General's) office door that invited moneyed interests to seek special treatment and favors."

The charges stretch back to 2008, shortly after Shurtleff hired Swallow, then a lobbyist and an attorney for a payday lending company, to be his chief campaign fundraiser.

After Shurtleff won the 2008 election, Swallow became Shurtleff's chief civil officer in the attorney general's office and, four years later, Shurtleff's successor as attorney general.

But Swallow led the state's highest law-enforcement office for only a year before resigning in 2013 in the face of allegations that he and Shurtleff had been too cozy with businessmen who were in trouble.

Both men have said they did not commit any crimes, and both were released on Tuesday.

"This is the culmination of about two years of investigation," Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday, adding that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was still looking into other suspects and leads in the case. "This is where public trust comes from, and I'm really proud of our FBI partners."

(c)2014 Los Angeles Times