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If former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff were on trial, his ex-chief deputy might have made a good witness against him.
But it's Shurtleff's anointed successor, John Swallow, before a jury, and Kirk Torgensen's testimony Friday may have helped Swallow's defense more than it did the prosecutors' case.
The trips by Shurtleff and Swallow in 2009 to the posh Pelican Hill resort have taken center stage in the 3rd District Court trial's first four days, thanks to the prosecution's lead witness, businessman Marc Sessions Jenson.
On the stand for the better part of three days, Jenson testified that he shelled out tens of thousands of dollars for Shurtleff, Swallow and Shurtleff's friend and so-called "fixer," the late Tim Lawson, to stay at the Southern California resort.
The trips took place at the same time the Utah attorney general's office was monitoring Jenson for payment of $4.1 million in restitution he owed in a fraud case. The excursions are now part of the multiple public corruption-related charges Swallow faces.
Torgensen who was fired by Attorney General Sean Reyes, Swallow's successor, in 2014 said Shurtleff began meddling in Jenson's 2005 criminal case, an "unusual" move for the state's top cop.
He testified that Shurtleff took part in an email chain that included a proposed plea agreement for Jenson. The deal appeared to have been negotiated, with Lawson's involvement, behind the backs of the three-term attorney general's own prosecutors.
Torgensen said he told Shurtleff that the boss's participation was "unethical."
That first plea proposal contained no restitution and didn't fly with a judge. A second, which included $4.1 million for victims, was approved.
Later, Torgensen said, he discovered Shurtleff had traveled to Pelican Hill in 2009 and met with Jenson. Torgensen suggested Shurtleff's presence there violated rules of professional conduct, because any conversations should have included Jenson's lawyers.
"I was upset," Torgensen said. "I thought it was foolish. I thought it was stupid."
Swallow would become the attorney general's chief deputy for civil affairs at the end of 2009, but at the time of the trips he was a private lawyer.
"The issue at Pelican Hill," the witness added, "was really a public-ethics issue."
When he spoke to FBI agents about the matter, Torgensen said "it was 99 percent Shurtleff and maybe 1 percent John Swallow."
Still, he said, he hoped Swallow, then Shurtleff's chief political fundraiser, "would have seen the trip didn't make sense; that it was wrong."
"I'm still baffled why the attorney general would take such a trip," Torgensen said.
Like Swallow, Shurtleff originally faced multiple felonies. But Shurtleff's case was dismissed last July. The prosecutor, Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, cited an ongoing squabble with the FBI and federal prosecutors over evidence as one reason.
Salt Lake County prosecutors, who are handling the Swallow case, argue that Shurtleff was in charge of a criminal enterprise: a "pay-to-play" operation inside the attorney general's office in which executives from certain industries were targeted for campaign donations that bought them access. At the top of the alleged enterprise the basis for the racketeering charge against Swallow was Shurtleff, while Lawson supplied the muscle and Swallow the money, prosecutors allege.
But Torgensen's testimony also appeared to undercut a third-degree felony count of misuse of public money against Swallow. It alleges Swallow got Chris Earl, the information-technology director for the attorney general's office, to replace a screen on one of Swallow's personal computers at a cost of $196.85 to the state.
Defense attorney Cara Tangaro asked Torgensen what he would do if he had a similar accident: a computer used for work that had the screen break while it was being transported.
Under similar circumstances, Torgensen said, he would turn to Earl to get it fixed.
"That's where I think everyone [in the office] would go," he told jurors.
Torgensen, who now lives in Florida, has cooperated with authorities. He gave interviews to the FBI and investigators working on reports for both the Utah House and the attorney general's office. Before that, he helped investigators by making a recorded phone call to Lawson.
In an email, Torgensen once warned Swallow that "Lawson is the guy that is going to bring the house of cards down."
On Jan. 10, however, when Torgensen was last in 3rd District Court, he was shackled and wearing red jail duds, having been arrested the day before while visiting Utah for his mother's funeral and burial.
A 22-year veteran of the attorney general's office, Torgensen had planned a prepaid family trip for the same time as the Swallow trial. He had told prosecutors about the conflict, his lawyers have said, but was still trying to work out a way to cooperate, when he was served with a subpoena.
Prosecutors sought the warrant for Torgensen's arrest to ensure he would show up for trial. He was released within 24 hours.
Also on Friday, two prosecution witnesses gave contradictory accounts about whether then-U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., was at Pelican Hill in June 2009 for a secret meeting at Jenson's nearby office.
Jenson testified Reid attended that meeting on or about June 3. He said the gathering also included Shurtleff, Swallow, Lawson, developers of a Utah Transit Authority FrontRunner station in Draper, and UTA officials, including Greg Hughes, then a board member for the transit agency and now Utah's House speaker.
Hughes and Shurtleff, both of whom may testify for the defense, have insisted Hughes was not present and that no such meeting with Reid took place.
Jenson alleged that $35 million had been siphoned off the project and that the meeting with Reid had been to seek protection from prying federal eyes. Jenson said he learned about Reid's presence at Pelican Hill and at the nearby meeting from Lawson and Mark Robbins, one of the early participants in the UTA station project and whom Jenson also was putting up at the resort.
Paul Benson, a Park City real estate agent and developer, said he is a friend of Robbins and was at Pelican Hill during that time frame but did not see Reid. He also testified that he went to the meeting that Jenson appeared to have described but said Reid was not there and that only a proposed development on a Caribbean island was discussed.
Benson did say that, on the Delta Air Lines flight home to Utah, he happened to sit next to Swallow and that Swallow said he was going to be Utah's next attorney general.
Friday's proceedings in the John Swallow trial ran into an unexplained midafternoon break.
Third District Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills cleared the courtroom, except for the attorneys, court staff and Swallow.
From an adjacent windowed conference room which has no sound a bailiff could be seen talking and answering questions. The jury returned and was questioned, then removed again, as the judge had lawyers, a bailiff and a court clerk take seats at different locations. Five jurors were brought back for more questions and then removed again.
Court spokesman Geoff Fattah later said the 40-minute break was related to a "security concern," although he could not elaborate.