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The Federal Election Commission is trying to "heap on" former Utah Attorney General John Swallow's already substantial burdens by trying to add him to a civil lawsuit alleging campaign-finance violations on top of a "wild-eyed criminal prosecution" he is fighting, according to a court filing by his lawyer.
The FEC is seeking to add Swallow as a defendant in a civil lawsuit against St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson, asserting that Swallow and Johnson conspired to skirt campaign-finance limitations and used "straw donors" to illegally give more than $150,000 to the campaigns of Sen. Mike Lee, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
Attorney Scott Williams argued this week that including Swallow in the litigation would be a new burden on his client, who has "been besieged by assaults from many angles" since he was inaugurated as attorney general in 2013.
"He has suffered extreme personal and financial hardship as he has been forced to engage legal representation throughout a multitude of investigations (which he cooperated with), and now a wild-eyed criminal prosecution," Williams wrote. "Now, the FEC desires to heap on, triggering another significant burden of time, financial resources, and distraction from his efforts to prove his innocence in the criminal case."
In the motion, filed Thursday, Williams asks U.S. District Judge Dee Benson to consider keeping any FEC action against Johnson and Swallow separate and argued that if the case against Swallow goes forward, it would likely need to be postponed until after the criminal case is completed.
Williams argues that the FEC's allegations appear to rely on testimony provided by Johnson, who is being prosecuted on 86 federal counts of criminal fraud.
In its case against Johnson, filed last June, the FEC accuses Johnson of reimbursing friends and business associates for donations they made to Shurtleff, Reid and Lee as a way to get around federal campaign limits, which were $2,400 at the time.
The FEC, relying on statements Johnson made to investigators in subpoenas in the Swallow criminal probe, alleges Johnson used the scheme to funnel $100,000 to Shurtleff's aborted U.S. Senate bid, $50,000 to Lee, R-Utah, and $20,000 to Reid, D-Nev.
According to the FEC, Johnson met in 2009 with Swallow, who was then a fundraiser for Shurtleff, and offered to write a check to Shurtleff's campaign that would have exceeded the federal limits. Swallow informed him a contribution of that size would be illegal, and Johnson subsequently found others through whom he could channel the money.
"There is no evidence whatsoever that Mr. Swallow knew of any person that allegedly acted as a straw donor, or knew anything about the specific means and manner of the donating or the activities of Mr. Johnson," Williams argued in his motion.
Williams also paints Swallow as a man who has suffered in recent years and has been unable to defend himself publicly because of the criminal charges hanging over his head.
"Mr. Swallow spared himself, his family and, most importantly, the Utah public," Williams wrote, "from the stresses and impact of the sensational spectacle that had been made of the politically motivated investigation against him."
Swallow resigned from office, effective December 2013, less than a year after his inauguration. He currently is working for a law firm and has kept a low profile.
Swallow is now a "modest private citizen facing … the formidable weight and resources of the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office," which has charged Swallow with 12 felonies and two misdemeanors, alleging he solicited and accepted bribes, tampered with evidence, obstructed justice and committed other malfeasance.
"Having long since abdicated any influence in the public arena, with no present intent or ability to further pursue such endeavors," Williams wrote, "it is hard to see how there is any significant public interest in pressing to trial an FEC suit based upon an infinitesimal aspect" of the Swallow-Shurtleff scandal.