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Shurtleff, Swallow face charges of putting self-interest above Utah homeowners

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Posted at 9:57 PM, Jul 16, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-16 23:57:43-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's former Attorneys General are facing prosecution for shared roles in an alleged crime that may have impacted the foreclosure proceedings for thousands of Utahns.

On December 27, 2012, with less than a week left in office, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff crossed out the name of the assistant attorneys general (AAGs) who were suing Bank of America over its method of foreclosing on Utah homes. He wrote his name instead, and dropped the case.

The AAGs objected when they found out, said investigators for the Utah House of Representatives. They thought they were winning the case and clarifying the obligation of national banks to use agents licensed in Utah when they pursued foreclosures in Utah.

When the circumstance came to light, one explanation for Shurtleff's unexpected action took center stage, but a new explanation is gaining currency.

The first explanation? A wealthy couple, Tim and Jennifer Bell of Holladay, had signed onto a risky loan even they were unable pay back. They were the original plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Bank of America. The Attorney General's office joined the case as "intervenors." That means the court approved their participation as a third-party in the suit.

All of the events were taking place in 2012, as John Swallow was consolidating support in a final push for the office of Attorney General.

The Bells decided to get involved in the Attorney General race, and hosted a fundraiser for Swallow, at the same Holladay home they might soon lose.

Lobbyists for Bank of America met with Shurtleff and Swallow to talk about the lawsuit they shared with the Bells.

Bank of America modified the Bell's mortgage, and the Bells dropped their legal action.

The state still had standing, and the AAGs assigned to the Bank of America suit informed John Swallow they intended to continue.

That's when, according to division chief Brian Farr, Swallow said he had told Bank of America if they modified the Bells' mortgage, the state's action would, "go away."

That was explanation number one.

Number two? The Bells attorney, Abe Bates, told FOX 13 News, "I do believe he was trying to cover for John and his interests, but he was concealing his own self-interest and he had his own pay-to-play self-interest going on here."

Bates said Mark Shurtleff had a powerful motive to drop the lawsuit. He was about to join Troutman Sanders, a national law firm representing Bank of America.

"Bank of America might have moved part or all of their bulk of business to some other lobbying law firm if the former attorney general from the one state that is hammering them hard costing them millions of dollars in lawyers' fees joined the lobbying practice," Bates said.

Investigators for the House Special Investigative Committee said Bank of America foreclosed on more than 5,000 Utah homes after the Attorney General's lawsuit was dropped.