Feds drop bribery investigation of Utah Attorney General

Sep 12 2013 - 7:40pm

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Utah Attorney General John Swallow looks on during an interview at the Utah State Capitol Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, in Salt Lake City. Swallow says the federal investigation into claims he arranged a bribery scheme has been closed and no charges are pending. Swallow says his attorney was told Thursday morning that the Department of Justice’s public integrity section had concluded the probe and the agency is not seeking criminal charges. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Utah Attorney General John Swallow looks on during an interview at the Utah State Capitol Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, in Salt Lake City. Swallow says the federal investigation into claims he arranged a bribery scheme has been closed and no charges are pending. Swallow says his attorney was told Thursday morning that the Department of Justice’s public integrity section had concluded the probe and the agency is not seeking criminal charges. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY -- A federal bribery investigation against Utah Attorney General John Swallow and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, has been closed and no federal charges will follow, multiple sources said Thursday.

Swallow was buoyant.

"I'm having a good day," Swallow told the Standard-Examiner in a phone interview. He said he was surprised and pleased that the federal investigation was closed as fast as it was.

He maintained he knew he hadn't done anything wrong and the result shows the people of Utah can trust him.

"Now that the pre-eminent law enforcement agency in the country, the Public Integrity Section, has just cleared me, I think that speaks volumes," he said.

He said further investigations against him will come to the same result.

Rod Snow, an attorney for Swallow, said he was informed by the Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section the federal agency will not seek criminal charges against Utah's current attorney general.

A spokesman for the Criminal Division of the DOJ in Washington, Peter Carr, when contacted by the Standard-Examiner, would neither confirm nor deny the information about the probe being stopped.

"As a matter of policy, we'll decline to comment and refer you to their attorneys," Carr said.

Snow said the DOJ informed him the probe had stopped, but nothing else.

"The way I interpret that is that they don't think there is sufficient, credible evidence to continue the investigation," Snow said. "But the DOJ wouldn't say that, because they never say that."

Both Swallow and Shurtleff were linked in a bribery allegation made by indicted businessman Jeremy Johnson, who claimed Swallow arranged a deal to pay U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to stop a federal investigation.

Shurtleff, on a radio show earlier Thursday, expressed a sense of relief with the finding.

"I always knew at the end of the day there was nothing they could charge me with," Shurtleff said. "Obviously I couldn't be more pleased and grateful."

The DOJ probe is just one of several pending against Swallow. He is also the subject of two complaints at the Utah State Bar, and the state elections office is investigating allegations he violated campaign disclosure laws by failing to disclose several business interests. The Davis County and Salt Lake County attorney's offices are also investigating charges against Swallow.

Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings issued a news release Thursday saying the federal action does not impact an investigation he and Salt Lake County Attorney Sim Gill are making into allegations made against Swallow.

"The Department of Justice is done with whatever process they did, or did not, go through. We are not. The state investigation, with the assistance of the FBI, continues," Rawlings said.

Snow said he was surprised to hear Gill and Rawlings will push forward with an investigation in which they'll be reviewing essentially the same evidence Justice officials were looking at.

"We're happy to work with them like we did with the DOJ," Snow said. "If they are fair and objective, they won't be looking for very long."

Meanwhile, a Utah House committee recently launched its own investigation into Swallow, and that investigation is moving forward. The group held its second meeting this week and officially empowered special counsel and investigators to begin collecting evidence into allegations made against the attorney general. The process is expected to cost as much as $3 million, according to estimates from legislative analysts.

Swallow, a former state representative for six years, said he hopes the results of the federal investigation at least will give lawmakers reason to look more closely at what they have undertaken.

"I hope in light of what has happened today they would at least pause and consider their decision," he said.

Still, other critics of Swallow suggested the federal action does not mean the embattled attorney general is innocent of all charges.

The Alliance for a Better Utah, a group that has openly criticized Swallow, said it is important not to read too much into the finding.

"There is still the very important and distinct consideration of whether or not Swallow is guilty of ethical wrongdoing or whether or not Swallow is guilty of breaking state law, neither of which were being considered by the DOJ," the statement by the alliance said.

Utah Political Capitol, a blog started by former Democratic publicist Eric Ethington, also suggested the DOJ's finding is being spun inappropriately by Swallow.

"Utah does not know, and perhaps never will know, why the feds have declined to continue. It is entirely possible that they could have deemed Attorney General Swallow innocent, but it is also equally as possible that they did not have enough evidence to proceed, or that they came under political pressure from Swallow's political allies in the Senate," the blog said.

Swallow said he is not spinning anything.

"I don't know how you spin the result. What we infer is there is not sufficient evidence of a crime. We are accused by some of having committed a federal crime. There wasn't sufficient evidence. I consider it a great result."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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