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For more than a year, embattled former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has insisted he is innocent of public corruption charges a contention he made official Monday, entering pleas of not guilty to felony and misdemeanor counts in connection with a scandal that rocked the state's top law enforcement office.
Shurtleff, 57, appeared in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court, with his attorney, Richard Van Wagoner, who entered the pleas on his client's behalf.
Shurtleff is due back in court again Aug. 10 for a pretrial conference.
Two weeks ago, prosecutors filed an amended complaint, reducing the number of criminal counts in the case from nine to seven. The new charges counts of accepting prohibited gifts, obstruction of justice, official misconduct and bribery to dismiss a criminal proceeding amount to five felonies and two misdemeanors.
Despite the reduced number of counts, Shurtleff still faces a maximum prison term of up to 30 years if convicted.
Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, who is overseeing the prosecution, has declined to comment publicly on the information that led to the amended charges.
The case stems from trips Shurtleff made to Pelican Hill, a luxury resort near Newport Beach, Calif. The jaunts were paid for by businessman Marc Sessions Jenson, whom the Utah attorney general's office had prosecuted for unregistered securities sales.
Prosecutors also allege Shurtleff accepted gifts including flights on a personal jet from indicted online marketer Jeremy Johnson, who gave tens of thousands of dollars to his political campaigns.
Johnson is charged in federal court with 86 counts related to the operations of his company, I Works, and may be on prosecutors' witness list for a Shurtleff trial.
A lawsuit brought June 19 against Johnson by the Federal Election Commission also may raise new evidence issues in the Shurtleff case, something Van Wagoner alluded to in court, telling the judge he doesn't yet have the documents.
"I trust the state won't have any problem getting from the federal government the stuff that we need in the state system," he said after the hearing.
The FEC lawsuit sparked the ire of Rawlings, a Republican, and Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill a Democrat, whose office jointly investigated the Shurtleff case and is now prosecuting former Attorney General John Swallow against the federal government over immunity agreements made between Johnson and state prosecutors.
Van Wagoner said he isn't privy to all the details, but criticized Gill's recent remarks, which he deemed "prejudicial" because they suggest that federal prosecutors should take over the cases.
"For Mr. Gill to come back and say the federal government should take this implies that there are things that the federal government didn't do," Van Wagoner said. "They did. They didn't bring charges [against Swallow or Shurtleff]."
In last week's dust-up with the feds Rawlings, too, suggested that the U.S. attorney's office take over the Swallow and Shurtleff prosecutions.
With his wife, M'Liss, at his side, Shurtleff declined to comment after Monday's hearing.
A Republican, who was the state's attorney general for 12 years, Shurtleff and Swallow, his handpicked successor, were charged with multiple felonies in July 2014.
Swallow now faces 13 felonies and one misdemeanor, including counts of racketeering, accepting gifts, bribery, misuse of public funds, falsifying government records, evidence tampering, money laundering, obstruction of justice, lying to investigators and failure to disclose a conflict of interest.
He is expected to enter pleas of not guilty July 27 in 3rd District Court.