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Republican Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings confirmed Tuesday that he is investigating the most powerful Democrat in the U.S. Senate, Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, based on evidence he has come across in prosecuting former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
That evidence likely is related to money that flowed in and out of the now-defunct SunFirst Bank in St. George from the processing of payments to online-poker companies in late 2009 to 2010 by embattled businessman Jeremy Johnson and partners.
Payments allegedly were made to Reid, then the Senate's majority leader, to win his support in legalizing online poker.
"We are looking into allegations related to Senator Reid [and others]," Rawlings said in a statement.
That statement is the most direct the Davis County prosecutor has been about the scope of his probe, though he has left clues in court documents pointing to Reid and others, including federal prosecutors, who, in 2013, backed off from investigations of Shurtleff and his successor, former Attorney General John Swallow.
Rawlings' statement cited the "overlap in facts and multiple witnesses" in the Shurtleff and Swallow cases with apparent ties to Reid and the direction of the accumulated evidence.
"It demands a thorough vetting by someone with the authority to do it," he said. "To simply ignore and run from what has been presented by multiple witnesses and sources, and the potential impact on the Mark L. Shurtleff case, would mean I am either intentionally blind or overly worried."
A telephone message left for Reid's spokeswoman in his Washington, D.C., office was not returned Tuesday. In the past, the office has steadfastly denied the Nevada senator had any connection with Johnson.
In 2014, Shurtleff and Swallow were charged in state court with multiple felonies and misdemeanors related to allegations of bribery and corruption inside the Utah attorney general's office. Both have pleaded not guilty; each has a trial scheduled for next year.
The state prosecutions followed a federal investigation of the two former attorneys general an inquiry that the U.S. attorney's office for Utah turned over to its Justice Department colleagues in Washington, citing an unspecified "conflict" in May 2013.
Months later, the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section declined to pursue charges, although FBI agents continued to help when Rawlings and Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, a Democrat who is prosecuting Swallow, took over the probes.
The players have wondered why federal prosecutors in Utah and Washington backed away and whether Reid or other power brokers applied any pressure.
Rawlings' interest in Reid came to light in court papers filed in pursuit of evidence he and Shurtleff's attorneys believe the federal government may be withholding.
Shurtleff believes the cache may include information that exonerates him and proves he was targeted for prosecution after his 2012 disclosure to the feds that Swallow may have helped Johnson enlist Reid's clout in stalling a Federal Trade Commission investigation of the St. George businessman's I Works online-marketing company.
Johnson has characterized the undertaking as an attempt to "bribe" Reid, while Swallow has called it a "lobbying" effort.
In meetings with Swallow and Shurtleff that Johnson secretly recorded, the businessman said he participated in a plan to bribe Reid to halt the FTC probe.
Such a scheme could work, Johnson said, because he believed the Nevada senator previously had pocketed payments from online-poker companies in exchange for pushing legislation to legalize their operations in the United States.
In July 2010, online-poker companies hosted a fundraising event at the Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for Reid, who faced a tough re-election battle at the time.
Attendees included Ray Bitar and Howard Lederer of Full Tilt Poker and John Pappas of the Poker Players Alliance, along with Johnson and partner Chad Elie. Elie later posted photos of the event on Twitter.
At the meeting, Johnson has said, Reid reversed a previous position and said he would introduce online-poker legislation.
Afterward, Johnson asked a Full Tilt Poker official why the Nevada senator shifted his stance.
"And he says, 'Let's just say he got a little something in his retirement fund,' " Johnson told Swallow during their infamous meeting in April 2012 at the Krispy Kreme doughnut shop in Orem.
About a week later, Johnson said, the poker company had him draw a "cashier's check" from poker funds in SunFirst Bank for "a million dollars" made out "to some media thing or something."
Then, during an Oct. 8, 2012, meeting with Shurtleff, Johnson told essentially the same story citing a larger amount to the then-Utah attorney general, adding that Reid didn't accept money directly.
"He's not dumb enough to just take money," Johnson said. "I know for a fact, like with the poker guys, it was $2 million, and they had to get this money, make sure they got it from a source it couldn't be traced back to them, send it to some weird company, and I'm not kidding you, Mark, three weeks later, Harry Reid introduced a bill in Congress to make poker legal."
The measure never advanced on Capitol Hill.