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Lawyers for Mark Shurtleff are asking a judge to dismiss three felony counts accusing the former three-term Utah attorney general of accepting improper gifts.
In a filing Friday, the attorneys argue that state law doesn't allow individuals to be charged with accepting improper gifts when they can be charged under a bribery statute for the same conduct.
It's the second time in a week that Shurtleff's legal team, led by attorney Richard Van Wagoner, has asked 3rd District Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills to dismiss all or part of the case.
Shurtleff has pleaded not guilty to seven felony and misdemeanor counts, including three of accepting a prohibited gift. He is scheduled for trial in late October.
The charges followed a multiyear investigation of alleged political corruption inside the Utah attorney general's office that entangled both Shurtleff and his successor, John Swallow.
In a motion filed June 24, Van Wagoner asked the judge to toss the whole case, arguing it was unfairly built on false statements and fact omissions by prosecutors and state and federal investigators. It also asserts Shurtleff's constitutional rights were violated by federal agencies' refusal to turn over possible evidence that might help his defense and that his right to a speedy trial was trampled.
Van Wagoner declined to comment on the latest filing Friday, but his motion regarding the bribery and gift statutes hardly surprised Shurtleff's chief prosecutor.
"I'm the one who pointed this out to them months ago," said Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings. "Therefore, I'm familiar with the argument. I'm also familiar with exactly how the state of Utah can respond to that argument, if we determined to do so."
Shurtleff initially was charged by Rawlings and Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill in July 2014 with multiple counts, including three bribery charges. Swallow was named as Shurtleff's co-defendant, but the cases later were split.
Rawlings took over the Shurtleff prosecution and amended the charges, dropping some and changing most of the bribery allegations to counts of accepting improper gifts.
That's a no-no under Utah's "gift statute," Van Wagoner argues. The law states an official cannot be charged with accepting improper gifts "to the extent that the public officer or public employee is chargeable, for the same conduct, under" Utah's bribery statute.
The conduct alleged in the bribery counts in the first set of charges is the same as in the later gift charges, the motion states.
Two of the gift charges relate to trips Shurtleff took to a ritzy Southern California resort called Pelican Hill that were paid for by Marc Sessions Jenson, a Utah businessman who alleged he had paid a Shurtleff associate $120,000 for help with prior criminal-securities counts. A third gift charge stems from Shurtleff staying at a St. George house owned by businessman Jeremy Johnson and accepting money and rides on Johnson's corporate jet.
The other charges include official misconduct, bribery to dismiss a criminal proceeding and two counts of obstruction of justice.
Rawlings has asked for a hearing to gather evidence related to the issues raised by Van Wagoner's motion.
Swallow has pleaded not guilty to multiple felony and misdemeanor counts, including two gift charges.
His lawyer, Scott C. Williams, is also seeking a dismissal, raising similar allegations about false statements, and the mishandling or misuse of information gathered by investigators, including thousands of privileged emails that Swallow exchanged with a previous attorney.
A hearing on that issue is scheduled for July 13.
Campaign donations case delayed
U.S. District Judge Dee Benson on Friday stayed for four months any activities in the Federal Election Commission lawsuit against St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson and former Utah Attorney General John Swallow over allegedly illegal campaign donations.
Swallow's attorney, Scott C. Williams, told the judge that evidence and witnesses in the FEC lawsuit could overlap with the state criminal case against Swallow in a way that affects his constitutional rights.
Benson put off any activity until Nov. 2.
The lawsuit alleges that Swallow induced Johnson to violate federal election laws by making contributions through so-called "straw donors" to the abbreviated U.S. Senate campaigns of former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. It also accuses Johnson of making illegal donations to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.