SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Two former Utah attorneys general were arrested on a range of bribery charges stemming from cozy relationships with several businessmen who plied them with gold coins, lavish trips, flights on private planes and trips aboard a luxury houseboat. They were also accused of trying to cover up the alleged schemes.
Republicans Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow served a combined 13 years as Utah's top law enforcement official while holding significant political sway and ambitions for higher office. Now, they each face 15 years in prison in a case that Gov. Gary Herbert, a fellow Republican, said "serves as a reminder that nobody is above the law and, if anything, public servants must be held to a higher standard."
Shurtleff, 56, told reporters Tuesday at a news conference that it was a "sobering experience" to be arrested, but he looked forward to defending himself through the legal process. He called it a politically motivated investigation by Salt Lake County's Democratic chief prosecutor.
It was a stunning reversal for a pair who authorities say got entangled in the same type of fraud both of them vowed to fight as they easily won four straight attorney general races.
Despite its image as a wholesome place, Utah has long struggled with scammers who take advantage of unsuspecting residents and made the state a cradle for swindlers. It has been named one of America's top five pyramid scheme hot spots by the FBI.
During his 2012 campaign for attorney general, Swallow pledged several times to make white-collar crime a priority, including Twitter posts stating he would "fight against financial crime and those who abuse their positions of trust to commit fraud."
After winning his third term in office in 2008, Shurtleff vowed to spend the next four years fighting fraud the same way he's combatted methamphetamine lab operators. Swallow served as chief deputy for Shurtleff from 2009 to early 2013 and was his hand-picked successor.
District Attorney Sim Gill said the investigation is ongoing and additional charges will likely be filed against both men and others. He said the probe had nothing to do with politics.
It's unclear if federal charges are being considered, though the FBI, which is assisting the probe, said it will continue to investigate a number of leads.
When Swallow, 51, walked out of jail Tuesday afternoon, he said: "I absolutely maintain my innocence. This finally gives us the opportunity to start to respond back."
The arrests and allegations are a bombshell political scandal that brings back memories of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, which were tarnished by a bribery scandal.
Court records show Swallow faces 13 charges, including felony bribery charges, while Shurtleff faces 10 counts that include bribery.
Gill said both men are accused of accepting at least $50,000 in cash or campaign contributions from people who faced or expected to face scrutiny from the attorney general's office.
They used a luxury jet and personal property belonging to a businessman in trouble with regulators, and took a California vacation paid for by another businessman, authorities said. Swallow also used the businessman's million-dollar houseboat — a vessel so large it had a helipad — and accepted a dozen gold coins from a former employer. He later sold back the coins to the same person for more than they were worth, according to officials.
In the cover-up allegations, prosecutors say Swallow destroyed and falsified records. Swallow said any missing records were deleted unintentionally.
Swallow resigned in late 2013 after spending nearly 11 months dogged by the bribery and corruption allegations. He adamantly denied breaking any laws and said the toll of the scrutiny had become too much for him and his family.