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A Utah man is threatening to sue state and federal agencies over mistreatments and harassment allegedly suffered in jail at the hands of government agents looking for evidence of criminal wrongdoing by former Utah Attorneys General Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow.
Tim Lawson a onetime fundraiser, confidant and so-called "fixer" for Shurtleff was arrested and charged with six felonies in December 2013. He became the first person accused of crimes tied to the bribery and corruption scandal that ensnared Shurtleff and Swallow.
"The bigger picture here is that Mr. Lawson feels that the authorities used jail as leverage to get him to roll over on Shurtleff and Swallow," his attorney Shane Johnson said in an interview. "It's not a secret that this is a politically charged case."
Lawson's allegations are spelled out in a "notice of claim" letter sent Jan. 12 by Johnson to Salt Lake County, the Utah office of the FBI and the state's Bureau of Investigation.
A copy of the notice letter was obtained through a public records request.
The notice demands compensation of $150,000 for Lawson's alleged mistreatment an amount Johnson said provides the agencies with an opportunity to "do the right thing" and settle the claim without going to court.
The three entities have 90 days to respond to the notice or face a lawsuit, which would demand more in compensation.
"Mr. Lawson has every intention of filing a lawsuit," Johnson said.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said civil lawyers for the county are reviewing the notice and "will respond in course." He declined to comment on any of Lawson's specific allegations, as did representatives for the FBI and the Utah attorney general's office, which represents state agencies in court.
Lawson's claims are surfacing just weeks ahead of a March preliminary hearing in 3rd District Court in which Salt Lake County prosecutors will ask a judge to order the Provo businessman to stand trial on charges of tax evasion, witness tampering, obstructing justice and participating in a pattern of unlawful conduct.
Court documents allege Lawson attempted to intimidate or threaten individuals who had apparent ties to Shurtleff and Swallow, some of whom also were facing criminal charges.
Lawson has not yet entered a plea to the charges, the most serious of which carry a potential punishment of up to 15 years in prison.
About seven months after Lawson's arrest, Shurtleff and Swallow were jointly charged with multiple felonies for creating an alleged pay-to-play culture in the attorney general's office that involved, among other accusations, taking bribes from campaign donors who operated businesses that could run into regulatory trouble.
Both former GOP officeholders have maintained their innocence and their prosecutions are ongoing.
Lawson's notice of claim falls short of calling his treatment by authorities a conspiracy. However, Johnson said, Lawson was under heavy pressure from investigators before and after his arrest.
"All along, he said, 'I'll tell you everything you want to know, but I'm not going to say what you are telling me to say, because it's simply not true,' " Johnson said.
The attorney said he did not know specifically what information investigators had sought, but added that Lawson believes he was targeted after he refused or was unable to comply with the demands.
Lawson's complaints include being unfairly denied a pretrial release agreement that would have set him free without posting $250,000 bail a sum he eventually paid. As an alleged first-time offender, Lawson believes he should have been eligible for a release agreement, something Shurtleff and Swallow were granted immediately after arrest, even though they face more serious charges, the notice states.
Lawson also claims state and federal investigators pressured him to commit perjury "insisting that [he] could reduce his criminal liability by implicating Shurtleff and Swallow in criminal activity, despite Lawson's insistence that he was aware of no such criminal activity."
Additionally, the notice of claim alleges Salt Lake County Jail officers and staff refused to accommodate Lawson's dietary needs he suffers from celiac disease and can't eat gluten leaving him unable to eat. The notice claims Lawson "starved for much of his incarceration."
Jailers also denied Lawson the use of an oxygen tank, which he had used daily before his arrest, Johnson said, and refused him medical treatment when he complained of chest pains and shortness of breath. Jail staffers also made public statements that left Lawson vulnerable to threats and physical harm at the hands of other inmates, the notice states.
In addition to financial compensation, the notice seeks investigations into Lawson's claims of "widespread violations of inmates' rights" by the jail and the alleged practice by county prosecutors to exploit conditions of bail and pretrial release to "coerce information from prisoners."