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Prosecutors have delivered an early Christmas gift to embattled former Utah Attorney General John Swallow by dropping one of the felony criminal charges filed against him in a 2014 public corruption case.
The Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office eliminated one second-degree felony count of accepting a prohibited gift in an amended criminal information filed late Thursday in 3rd District Court.
The charge is related to a five-day Lake Mead houseboat trip, that prosecutors say Swallow took with his family in June 2010 at the expense of businessman Jared Pierce. At the time, Swallow was a chief deputy in the attorney general's office.
On Friday, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said his office decided to drop the charge as part of a "hard scrub" of the case that prosecutors are conducting in preparation for a February trial.
"As we are streamlining and focusing on the February trial, we are starting to clean up the case," Gill said. "It was probably one of the weaker counts."
Swallow remains charged with 10 other felonies and two misdemeanors, including another gift count, and counts of receiving or soliciting bribes, tampering with evidence, obstructing justice and participating in a pattern of unlawful conduct.
Swallow has pleaded not guilty to each of the charges and, if he is found guilty, faces a prison term of up to 30 years.
Gill said it's not likely his office will drop any of the other charges, but will continue to look closely at the case as February nears.
"If there are things that come up, we will address them in the legal way," he said.
Swallow's attorney, Scott C. Williams, said he believes the gift count would have been dismissed earlier had the courts held a preliminary hearing in the case.
"The charge, as with others, was so meritless," Williams said.
On the advice of a previous attorney in 2015, Swallow waived his right to a preliminary hearing. Such hearings are designed to give the court a preview of the case, so a judge can decide if there is sufficient evidence to support the charges and hold a trial.
Williams in April petitioned the court to vacate Swallow's waiver and hold a hearing, but lost the argument with Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills.
Charges against Swallow and his predecessor Mark Shurtleff were brought jointly in 2014 by Gill, a Democrat, and Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, a Republican. The case followed nearly two years of investigative work by county, state and federal authorities, state lawmakers and the lieutenant governor's office.
Both men were accused of cultivating a pay-to-play climate inside the office. Shurtleff was first elected to the attorney general's office in 2000 and served a dozen years. Swallow was elected to replace Shurtleff in 2012, but resigned in late 2013 amid allegations of the scandal.
When their cases were split, Gill took over the Swallow case and Shurtleff's case went to Rawlings.
Shurtleff's case was dismissed in July.
The charge dropped by Salt Lake County prosecutors on Thursday was not included in the original criminal complaint, but was added in May of 2015.
Court papers say Pierce was a principal in an Internet firm, Grant Instructor LLC, a Murray company that sold information about government grants to the public. In August 2009, the company and two other Pierce operations were investigated by the Utah Division of Consumer Protection.
The division, an agency represented by the attorney general's office, dismissed the citation about a month later. Before joining Shurtleff's staff in December 2009, Swallow had represented Pierce and his companies in those inquiries.
Pierce made "significant campaign donations" to Shurtleff and Swallow, according to court documents.
Also on Thursday, prosecutors filed a list of 51 possible witnesses they could call to testify at trial.
The list includes state and federal agents, staff from Swallow's political campaign, and convicted businessman Marc Jenson, who allegedly footed the bill for a trip Swallow took to a lavish California resort.
A key witnesses in the case is expected to be Jeremy Johnson, an imprisoned St. George businessman who provided aircraft rides and a houseboat trip to Swallow and his family in 2010 the remaining gift count that Swallow still faces.
Convicted on federal criminal charges earlier this year, Johnson has also told authorities Swallow helped him set up an effort to engage U.S. Sen. Harry Reid to stall a federal regulatory investigation against his online marketing company.
Shurtleff is not on the witness list.