Saturday, April 19, 2014

Search warrant reveals possible charges against former Utah attorney general

By Dennis Romboy, Deseret News

Published: Wed, Dec. 18 6:40 p.m. MST

 Tim Lawson makes his initial appearance in district court in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013. He is charged with a pattern of unlawful activity, tax violations, retaliation against a witness and obstructing justice stemming from a monthslong investigation into alleged misconduct by Mark Shurtleff, John Swallow and others.

Tim Lawson makes his initial appearance in district court in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013. He is charged with a pattern of unlawful activity, tax violations, retaliation against a witness and obstructing justice stemming from a monthslong investigation into alleged misconduct by Mark Shurtleff, John Swallow and others.

(Al Hartmann)

SALT LAKE CITY — A newly released search warrant in the ongoing investigation of Utah's two previous attorneys general reveals possible criminal charges prosecutors are considering.

The Nov. 27 warrant seeks the phone records of former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, chief deputy attorney general Kirk Torgensen, and Tim Lawson, a longtime friend of Shurtleff's who already faces felony racketeering charges in the case.

State investigators believe the records are evidence for eight possible crimes, including receiving or soliciting a bribe or bribery by a public servant and misusing public money, according to an affidavit supporting the warrant. The warrant filed in 3rd District Court is the first one in the investigation to be unsealed.

Meantime, a special Utah House committee intends to disclose the findings of its investigation into former Attorney General John Swallow over the next two days. Swallow resigned earlier this month.

The bipartisan panel will hold meetings at the Capitol on Thursday and Friday to hear what its lawyers and investigators uncovered over the past four months. While the report will address allegations that are widely known, it is also expected to flesh out matters that haven't been publicly aired.

Also, Gov. Gary Herbert plans to interview the three candidates nominated to replace Swallow for a second time. He said last week he wants to make his choice before Christmas.

The search warrant describes trips Lawson arranged for Shurtleff and Swallow to the luxury Pelican Hill resort in Southern California where now-imprisoned businessman Marc Sessions Jenson lived in 2009. Jenson paid for the trips.

Jenson paid Lawson $120,000 to gain access to Shurtleff, according to court documents. Lawson allegedly told people that Shurtleff "brings him in to solve tough problems" and that he and Shurtleff are "real tight."

During one of the trips, Shurtleff told Jenson, who was on probation at the time, that if he had contributed to his election campaign, "he would never have been in trouble in the first place," according to court documents.

Jenson is serving a 10-year sentence for failing to pay $4.1 million in restitution after reaching a plea deal for selling unregistered securities.

The affidavit also describes threatening phone calls and messages Lawson made to businessmen involved in messy deals in which Shurtleff intervened. Lawson sent a text message to businessman Darl McBride saying "he was messing with the 12th richest man in the world and YOU ARE GOING DOWN," according to the affidavit.

Lawson appeared in 3rd District Court on Wednesday for a brief hearing. He will remain in the Salt Lake County Jail after the court declined to address his $250,000 bail, leaving it to the judge assigned to case.

An attorney for Lawson, Dana Facemyer, said he plans to ask for a bail hearing but had no further comment.

Blake Nakamura, chief deputy Salt Lake County district attorney, said the bail is appropriate for the charges against Lawson.

Lawson, of Provo, is charged with pattern of unlawful activity, a second-degree felony; two counts of tax violations, second- and third-degree felonies; retaliation against a witness, a third-degree felony; and two second-degree felony counts of obstruction of justice.

As the House committee hearings and court proceedings unfold, Herbert will choose Swallow's replacement.

The GOP State Central Committee forwarded three names — Sean Reyes, Robert Smith and Brian Tarbet — to Herbert for consideration. The governor interviewed each of them Monday. His pick will face re-election in 2014 to fill the remaining two years of Swallow's term.

Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, sees it as a two-man race between Reyes and Tarbet, the acting attorney general.

Reyes, a Salt Lake attorney, isn't entitled to the job but deserves "a little extra consideration" because he lost to Swallow in the Republican primary election, he said.

Jowers said he's heard great things about Tarbet, but because of his position in Swallow's office the past year, he "had to trudge around in that muck for a while." Tarbet, the former adjutant general of the Utah National Guard, has said he will not run for election if appointed to the job.

As for Smith, Jowers said he doesn't see a path for him becoming attorney general. Both Reyes and Tarbet have been publicly vetted, he said, but Smith, managing director of the BYU International Center for Law and Religion Studies, is not widely known.

Email: romboy@deseretnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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1. Commodore
West Jordan, UT,
Dec. 18, 2013

Based on how lenient they were with Swallow - they should have legally pursued him after he resigned - I have serious concerns this is all for show. Anyone disagree?

2. Mike in Sandy
Sandy, UT,
Dec. 18, 2013

Here they go!

3. Strider303
Salt Lake City, UT,
Dec. 19, 2013

I keep wondering that all of this didn't happen in a vacuum. Other people must have had an inkling that something was going on in the AG's office with the expensive trips and such. No one said or did anything. Go along to get along.

Commodore may have a point in this matter.

4. one vote
Salt Lake City, UT,
Dec. 19, 2013

So if you had money and made contributions you could get away with crimes in Utah?

5. Calif
PETALUMA, CA,
Dec. 19, 2013

Actually I am quite confused because it is taking so much longer than would be expected with what I thought was a alid enough accusation from Jeremy Johnson, at least with video and tape he must have been not making it all up but he was ignored. Maybe JJ was actually hated too much in this particular scandal?