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A federal judge has granted a government request to make former Utah Attorney General John Swallow a co-defendant in a civil election fraud lawsuit involving a St. George businessman accused of using straw donors to fill the campaign coffers of candidates for the U.S. Senate.
The Federal Elections Commission filed the lawsuit against Jeremy Johnson in June 2015 and in December sought to add Swallow to the case, claiming he directed and/or coordinated activities with Johnson that violated the Federal Elections Campaign Act.
Swallow's attorney, Scott C. Williams fought the joinder, claiming it would unduly burden and prejudice the former GOP office-holder, who is also fighting criminal public corruption charges.
In a ruling issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Dee Benson sided with FEC attorneys who say the men are equally responsible because their actions arose from the "same transactions and occurrences."
"[The court] also finds that Swallow will not be unduly prejudiced by joinder in this case," Benson wrote.
Swallow denies the allegations and his attorney called the FEC's case "weak," on Wednesday.
"I am confident that we will answer to it successfully," Williams said.
FEC attorneys say Johnson used third parties to funnel about $170,000 in illegal contributions to the campaigns of U.S. Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Harry Reid, D-Nev., as well as former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff during the 2009-2010 election cycle.
Under FEC rules, individuals' contributions were limited to $2,400.
The FEC ties Swallow to $50,000 in donations to the Lee campaign and say he solicited the funds from Johnson and directed that the contributions be made through others. Swallow also then alerted Johnson when some contribution checks bounced, the FEC said.
In his own court filings, Johnson claims the FEC case is unfairly based on "illegally obtained and inadmissible evidence" which was subject to "promises of immunity and confidentiality."
That is a reference to Johnson's cooperation in a multi-year state and federal investigation of Swallow and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, that resulted the criminal charges filed against both men in July 2014. Johnson contributed to both Swallow and Shurtleff's political campaigns.
Swallow has pleaded not guilty to 14 misdemeanor and felony charges in Utah's 3rd District Court. No trial is scheduled. Shurtleff has pleaded not guilty in a separate case is set for a trial in May.
Johnson and two employees of his online marketing company, I Works, are currently on trial in federal court, accused of 86 counts of bank fraud and other crimes related to the company's operations.
Johnson is also separately battling the Federal Trade Commission in Nevada over I Works operations.
That case, which is scheduled for a trial in late March, hampers his ability to fight the FEC's allegations, Johnson's court paper say, because his assets have been seized.