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Skordas: Swallow's tactics no secret

Published July 24, 2013 2:26 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Tribune's July 17 online edition contained two interesting articles about the Utah Attorney General's Office and the man who runs it, Attorney General John Swallow.

First, the A.G.'s office has agreed, almost two full years after filing criminal charges against Marc Sessions Jenson, that it should no longer handle that prosecution ("A.G.'s office stepping aside from Marc Jensen case").

At the same time, the Utah House of Representatives has appointed a nine-member panel to investigate the activities of the attorney general himself ("Nine lawmakers chosen in special session may decide Swallow's fate").

Sadly, as early as the spring of 2012, discussions were held in the A.G.'s office with then-candidate Swallow about the wisdom of that office prosecuting Jenson when the relationship between Swallow, then the A.G.'s chief deputy, and Johnson was already known.

It was no secret that Swallow and his boss at the time, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, had spent considerable time with Jenson at a luxury resort and had solicited and received campaign contributions, either directly or indirectly, from Jenson, all while Jenson was under investigation on one matter and was serving a plea in abeyance on another.

Over the objection of staff in the A.G.'s office, the order came down to continue that prosecution, not because it was sound legal strategy, but because Swallow was facing a tough opponent from his own party at the upcoming Republican state convention and that the information about Jenson could damage Swallow's chances.

One can easily imagine how that convention would have turned out had the delegates known what we all know now.

The House investigative panel assigned to investigate Swallow — as well as, for that matter, the elected county attorneys looking into his conduct, the soon-to-be appointed special prosecutor, the FBI and, probably, the Utah State Bar — will have a chance to look into how some of these campaign contributions came about.

It's a part of our American political culture that people, or organizations, donate dollars to candidates regularly. Most expect something in return.

For example, the gun lobby donates generously to a campaign, and coincidentally, the A.G.'s office spends hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to insure that Utahns are free to carry guns in schools and other places, and that no entity can restrict that right. That was a good investment for the gun lobby.

The attorney general's campaign war chest has long been filled with donations from multi-level marketing companies, groups holding seminars on "How to make a fortune in real estate" and other get-rich-quick schemes. As long as there is no investigation by the A.G.'s office, though, everyone is happy except the state Division of Consumer Protection.

But what happens when there is a prosecution? What happens when that St. George businessman, that ski resort developer or that guy who promises to bail us out when we are upside down on our home loan do get prosecuted? They cry foul, of course.

For more than a decade, anyone hoping to avoid investigation or prosecution by the Utah Attorney General's Office knew exactly what to do. Apparently, John Swallow didn't get the memo.

Greg Skordas is a Salt Lake City attorney in private practice and a former chief deputy of the Salt Lake County Attorney's Office, where he worked as a prosecutor from 1987 until 1995.






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