This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Correction • This story has been corrected to reflect that Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings did not classify Utah Sen. Mike Lee as a "possible target" in a potential grand jury investigation. A previous version incorrectly stated that he did. Under Utah Code, "target" has a specific legal definition. Rawlings says "Lee is a person we would like to have a conversation with concerning allegations surrounding the 2010 Senate campaign, as well as other significant issues under review and for which a Utah State grand jury, if one is impaneled, will be asked to issue subpoenas." The Tribune regrets the error.
It reads like a cast of characters for a detective film noir: powerful politicians, shady businessmen, high-ranking law officers and an idealistic, persistent prosecutor.
The plot includes allegations of corruption, cover-ups and the naked exercise of power.
Let's title this movie "Rogue Runner" only this story is not fiction. It's the code name Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings has given the sprawling probe he has spun off from the investigation that ensnared former Utah Attorneys General Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow.
And now, in a dramatic twist, Rawlings wants a state grand jury this summer to hear the evidence he has amassed and consider possible criminal indictments.
Rawlings has been collecting evidence about longtime Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., first-term Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, the U.S. Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section and staffers with the U.S. attorney's office for Utah, along with other state and local officials.
The premise is bold: that federal prosecutors in Utah and Washington, D.C., failed or refused to pursue evidence of corruption in some high places. Was there a cover-up? If so, who gave the orders and whom were they trying to protect?
"We are reviewing what the federal government was not willing to do," Rawlings told The Salt Lake Tribune.
The prosecutor wants a grand jury to consider evidence about the following:
• The abrupt withdrawal of the Department of Justice Public Integrity Section (DOJ-PIN) from investigations of Swallow and Shurtleff in 2013 without filing charges.
• The apparent failure of DOJ-PIN and the FBI to seriously investigate allegations by St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson that Swallow helped initiate a 2010 effort to bribe Reid, Senate majority leader at the time, to stall an investigation by federal regulators into Johnson's online marketing company.
• The prosecution of Johnson by the U.S. attorney's office in Utah and the connections between Swallow and federal trial attorney Brent Ward, who had been chief prosecutor of Johnson at the time the businessman was trying to pressure Swallow to return monies from the Reid deal and warning it could be made public.
• Lee's 2010 election campaign, which allegedly received about $50,000 and perhaps more from Johnson through the use of so-called "straw donors" at the time when Johnson and his partners were processing illegal online-poker transactions.
• The development of a Utah Transit Authority FrontRunner station in Draper. The $65 million Whitewater VII project became the subject of a state probe and a legislative audit after questions surfaced about business connections between Shurtleff supporter and businessman Mark Robbins and then-UTA board member Terry Diehl. The development deal was investigated while Shurtleff was in office but was turned over to federal agencies over conflict concerns. Federal prosecutors have never filed charges.
Making the case for a grand jury • Before any possible prosecutions in these matters, however, the Davis County attorney must clear two hurdles: persuade a five-judge panel to convene a grand jury to hear the Rogue Runner evidence and secure funding to bring in witnesses and cover other costs.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has promised Rawlings at least $50,000 from a state litigation fund, though the details were being negotiated Monday. That's money Rawlings said he will tap to help close any evidence-gathering loops, including collecting sworn statements from witnesses in Utah, across the U.S. and even overseas.
Getting the court to impanel a grand jury could prove much tougher.
State grand juries are rare in Utah. Most prosecutors file criminal charges directly in a district court, which then holds a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to merit a trial.
Grand juries, which by law are staged in secret, essentially work in reverse. Prosecutors call witnesses typically through subpoenas to provide sworn testimony and present other evidence to a panel of nine to 15 jurors. This panel then decides, by majority vote, whether there is sufficient cause for a criminal indictment.
Prosecutors consider grand juries valuable, particularly in public-corruption or misconduct cases in which witnesses may be reluctant to cooperate, said Paul Boyden, executive director of Utah's Statewide Association of Prosecutors.
"It's especially useful, but it's a little hard to get," he said. "Our court is not particularly favorable to grand juries."
Boyden noted that a 2015 Utah Supreme Court ruling criticized the process as a way for prosecutors to circumvent legal protections for those accused or suspected of crimes, including the right to be informed of the charges and to be represented by a lawyer.
"By persuading the panel [of judges] to summon a grand jury," the justices wrote, "a prosecutor postpones all of these obligations to defendants until after he obtains an indictment."
Even if Rawlings successfully sways the court, the public may never know the outcome of any grand-jury proceeding. By law, those hearings must be held in secret, so any information about witnesses or the scope of the Rogue Runner probe would be protected unless indictments are issued.
Pay to play • Rawlings has offered few public details about his grand-jury plans, but court filings in pursuit of documents held by federal agencies provide clues.
Shurtleff whom Rawlings is prosecuting for his role in an alleged "pay to play" operation inside the Utah attorney general's office is expected to be featured prominently, but not as a target. Instead, he would serve as a key witness in an investigation that Rawlings will only say is "integrally related" to the former three-term attorney general's own case.
It's a role Shurtleff welcomes because his 2012 attempts to alert federal officials to a possible bribe of Reid "fell on deaf ears," his attorney Richard Van Wagoner said.
"Mr. Shurtleff is delighted that Mr. Reyes and Mr. Rawlings are not looking in the other direction and are willing to pursue this matter to whatever destination it goes," Van Wagoner said. "In this day and age, it's a very politically difficult and courageous thing."
Reid's office did not return an email seeking comment but previously has denied any wrongdoing and dismissed Rawlings' efforts as political grandstanding.
In 2014, Rawlings and Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill jointly charged Shurtleff and Swallow, his handpicked successor, with multiple felony and misdemeanor counts stemming from actions in the attorney general's office or political campaigns.
The criminal cases came about 10 months after a 2013 announcement that federal authorities would bow out of prosecuting either man despite a long FBI investigation into the allegations.
Federal officials provided no reason for the decision.
Shurtleff and Swallow have pleaded not guilty, and their now-separate cases are ongoing in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court.
Both cases rely heavily on evidence gathered by the FBI, whose agents continued to work closely with Gill and Rawlings even after federal prosecutors walked away.
The pursuit of a grand jury stems from the questions that remain unanswered, Rawlings said.
"The full scope of the allegations, including all potential players, has never been adequately addressed, if even at all, in the context of the Utah Criminal Code," he said.
Allegations concerning these matters have had public airings, largely because of Jeremy Johnson. The southern Utah businessman went public days after Swallow took office in January 2013 about the then-new attorney general's involvement in an alleged push to bribe Reid. Swallow has termed it a lobbying effort. As for Johnson, he is awaiting sentencing in federal court on eight counts of providing false information to a bank in a case unrelated to the accusations involving Reid.
Shurtleff's overtures • Rawlings' opening to investigate this matter further and wider stems from Shurtleff's role in bringing the allegation involving Swallow, his then-chief deputy, to the notice of federal officials.
In a statement last month, Rawlings said "an important part of the investigation involves matters Mark Shurtleff reported to the United States attorney's office" in late 2012.
Shurtleff went to U.S. authorities after a conversation he had with Johnson in October 2012 in which the businessman spelled out Swallow's role in the attempt to get Reid to stall a federal probe of Johnson's I Works company.
According to an FBI memo, Shurtleff met on Nov. 2, 2012, with federal prosecutors Brent Ward and Phil Viti of the U.S. attorney's office for Utah, along with FBI agent Michelle Pickens, and told them about Johnson's accusations.
A week later, Shurtleff also met in his Capitol office with another FBI agent, Jon Isakson. Six months later, on May 6, 2013, after Johnson had made details of the deal public, Shurtleff went again to the FBI. This time, Ed Sullivan, an attorney from the Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section, was also present.
In an email made part of the record in the Johnson criminal case, Rawlings said his inquiry was seeking evidence about why the DOJ declined to prosecute Johnson, Swallow and others "for attempting to bribe" Reid.
"Jeremy Johnson confessed to this," Rawlings wrote. "There are recorded conversations with John Swallow about this. What exactly and with what specificity did the Department of Justice do to pursue this?"
In a motion filed in the Shurtleff case in state court, Rawlings sought to compel the Justice Department to provide records.
The federal government, Rawlings wrote, "abandoned and washed its hand of the case in 2013 after some sort of a seemingly truncated and narrowly focused investigation with response to a very constricted number of persons and events."
After Johnson's revelations in January 2013, the U.S. attorney's office for Utah had announced that it was investigating Swallow and, it turned out, Shurtleff.
By the time of Shurtleff's May 2013, interview, however, the U.S. attorney's office for Utah had withdrawn from the Swallow and Shurtleff probes. It still zealously pursued the I Works-related criminal charges against Johnson.
Rawlings' email says he is seeking "every point of intersect" between the Shurtleff, Swallow and Johnson cases and Ward, who at one time was the lead U.S. prosecutor of Johnson.
Ward allegedly was politically entangled with Swallow when he was prosecuting Johnson, and Rawlings has been seeking information about that relationship.
Ward denies any connection to Swallow beyond a few casual meetings.
"I had no relationship with John Swallow," he said Monday. "I don't know the man."
Ward said a mutual acquaintance had suggested that Swallow, if elected Utah's attorney general, and Ward, who ran an obscenity-crimes task force for the DOJ, might be able to work together on such cases, but a partnership never materialized.
As for allegations of a possible bribe of Reid, Ward said he met with Shurtleff once before Christmas in 2012 and that others subsequently handled the matter
"That was the end of my involvement," he said.
Ward said he didn't know why he might be linked to any grand-jury probe about federal prosecutors' decision to withdraw from the Shurtleff and Swallow investigation.
"I had nothing to do with the decision," he said. "I don't even know who made it."
According to court filings, Rawlings believes that the U.S. attorney's office for Utah, the Justice Department and the FBI may be withholding evidence that would show why they failed to fully investigate connections that show funds flowed to Reid from Johnson and from online-poker interests prosecuted by the U.S. attorney in New York.
Evidence provided by Johnson under an immunity agreement, Rawlings wrote, "clearly leads to material information in [among other places] the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, DOJ-PIN itself and overseas."
Rawlings also questions whether the FBI was constrained in the probe: "Local FBI agents were in tune with the overlap of the full scope but were not able to sit down and play that grand piano, through no fault of their own."
Van Wagoner, Shurtleff's attorney, has said he's disturbed by the fact that FBI agents at one time heard Shurtleff report the Johnson allegations about Reid and then, after federal prosecutors pulled out, continued to work with Rawlings to investigate his client.
It's another reason Shurtleff would welcome testifying to a grand jury and why he has supported Rawlings in an ongoing court battle over documents the FBI and the DOJ initially withheld.
"Mr. Shurtleff is entitled to all information related to what the FBI and the DOJ did or failed to do in follow-up to the information he provided," Van Wagoner has said, "... and what bearing that had on [his] prosecution and the FBI's reaching its hand from the grave after the Public Integrity Section said no."
Rawlings also has said that he has questions for Lee, Utah's freshman U.S. senator, and for his 2010 campaign.
Lee's office declined to comment.
His campaign has surfaced in court documents as receiving funds from "straw donors," allegedly through Johnson as directed by Swallow, then a Lee fundraiser.
The Federal Election Commission determined that the senator's campaign broke no law.
However, the FEC filed a complaint in federal court that accuses Johnson and Swallow of violating election laws by using the straw donors to provide $50,000 to Lee's campaign. Johnson also had contributed or arranged for donations of $20,000 to Reid's campaign and $100,000 to Shurtleff's.