Jury finds former Utah AG John Swallow not guilty on all counts

Posted at 6:35 PM, Mar 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-03 09:46:00-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A jury found former Utah Attorney General John Swallow not guilty of all charges against him in the high profile corruption trial.

After deliberating about 14 hours, the jury of five men and three women returned the unanimous verdicts. Swallow cried as Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills read the verdicts.

"I’m speechless. We’re just so grateful. The system did work," a beaming Swallow told reporters outside of court. "I’m grateful for my lawyers, I’m grateful for my family and I’m grateful for my faith and we’re just glad it’s over."

The trial is the culmination of one of the biggest political scandals in state history, which resulted in the arrests of former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, Swallow and others. They were accused of a "pay to play" scheme involving people who had dealings with the AG's office.


Former Utah Attorney General John Swallow reacts as not guilty verdicts are read in his trial. (Courtroom pool photo)

Both men denied the accusations. Swallow resigned about a year into office in the face of mounting investigations by the Utah State Legislature, the Lt. Governor's Office and the U.S. Department of Justice. Charges were ultimately dismissed against Shurtleff.

At trial, Salt Lake County prosecutors tried to portray a conspiracy between Shurtleff, his "enforcer," Tim Lawson, and Swallow as a rising political star who was the "heir apparent." Their case focused heavily on the testimony of Marc Jenson, who was facing a fraud case and said he paid for trips for the three to the lavish Pelican Hill resort in California in lieu of $4.1 million restitution.

Defense lawyers attacked Jenson's credibility, branding him a "con man" who made up the accusations against them once he wound up in prison. They also criticized an FBI agent who disclosed to the jury why federal prosecutors weren't pursuing charges.

Prosecutors' case was not helped when one of their star witnesses, imprisoned St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson, refused to testify. After rejecting immunity deals, he was found in contempt and sentenced to 30 days in jail. Johnson was key to some of the counts against Swallow.

By the end of the trial, prosecutors dismissed four counts against Swallow. They declined to comment to FOX 13 as they left court. In a statement, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill acknowledged his team had a tough case to prove.

"This was a complex, difficult case. In some cases, jurors are asked to make simple assessments akin to black versus white. In other cases, however, jurors are asked to consider matters involving various shades of gray, where the right answer may be difficult to find but where prosecutors must nonetheless find their probable cause and follow the facts to wherever they lead," he wrote. "This case fell squarely into the latter category."

Swallow's defense attorney, Scott Williams, said his client was wrongly accused.

"He had a lot of momentum against him, federal power and he had a lot of pitfalls in the system. We worked through those, got it to a jury who could pay attention. That’s why we won," he said.

Watch John Swallow and his lawyers react to the verdict here:

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who replaced Swallow in office after losing to him in the race initially, said "I also greatly appreciate the service of the jury and respect its verdict."

Reached by FOX 13 on Thursday night, Shurtleff called the verdict "vindication."

"There was a lot of testimony about me and alleged criminal conduct in concert with John, and it was rejected by the jury so it’s absolute vindication," he told FOX 13.

The prosecutor who went after him before dropping charges -- Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings -- blasted Gill in a statement issued Wednesday night, calling the verdict "predictable to any prosecutor who bothered to assess the evidence with an objective view and who was not controlled by the United States Department of Justice."

"In addition to having his rights violated, Mark Shurtleff would have
absolutely been acquitted as well," he wrote in an email, later adding: "May Mr. Swallow and his family try to put their life back together as Mark Shurtleff is attempting to do."

Speaking to FOX 13, Swallow reflected on going from being one of the top Republican leaders in Utah as attorney general -- to a criminal defendant.

"It was a real education and I’m sure I’ll have things to say about it later," he said.

As he left the courthouse hugging his wife, Swallow quipped of the verdict: "It's better than winning an election."

Here's the list of charges the jury issued a verdict on:

  • Count 1, Pattern of Unlawful Activity, a second-degree felony. This is the overall conspiracy prosecutors allege between former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, John Swallow and Tim Lawson.
  • Count 2, Accepting a Gift, a second-degree felony. This charge is over the use of Jeremy Johnson's houseboat.
  • Count 3, Receiving or Soliciting a Bribe, a second-degree felony. In this charge, Swallow is accused of asking for $120,000 from Travis Marker for assistance in an FTC investigation into one of Johnson's companies.
  • Count 4, Receiving or Soliciting a Bribe, a second-degree felony. This charge stems from a $28,000 fundraiser held by Tim and Jennifer Bell, who had a lawsuit against Bank of America (that the Utah AG's Office intervened in).
  • Count 7, False or Inconsistent Statements, a second-degree felony. Swallow is accused of making false statements in a deposition with the Lt. Governor's Office about calendars, his financial disclosures and when he decided to run for attorney general.
  • Count 9, Evidence Tampering, a third-degree felony. Related to the Bell fundraiser disclosures. The $28,000 fundraiser was reported down to $1,000.
  • Count 11, Misuse of Public Money, a third-degree felony. Swallow is accused of having the Utah Attorney General's Office pay for a broken computer screen at his home.
  • Count 12, Obstructing Justice, a third-degree felony. Swallow is accused of lying to FBI agents about who paid for Pelican Hill trips, and being "walled off" from another investigation into Marc Jenson.
  • Count 13, Falsification or Altering of a Government Record, a class B misdemeanor. Prosecutors allege Swallow did not disclose other business and income interests in his candidate declaration form.