SALT LAKE CITY — Two former Utah attorneys general were arrested on an array of bribery charges Tuesday stemming from cozy relationships with several businessmen, a stunning fall for a pair of politicians who built immense political clout in their years at the highest level of state law enforcement.
John Swallow, 51, and Mark Shurtleff, 56, were arrested at their homes Tuesday morning, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said at a news conference at the FBI office in Salt Lake City in which he detailed payoffs involving gold coins, swanky resorts and other luxury gifts.
The name of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada surfaced in one of the schemes mentioned in court filings and in previous reports, an alleged $250,000 bribery strategy by Swallow to get a federal investigation squashed of an ally’s Internet marketing firm.
Reid has not been implicated in the investigation, and strongly has denied involvement in any scheme. When the allegations first surfaced in January 2013, he said through his office they were “absurd and utterly false” and made by a businessman “with a background of fraud, deception and corruption.”
“Bribery is a crime for which Senator Reid personally has put people behind bars,” his office said at the time.
On Tuesday, Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman said, “We don’t have anything to add to what we’ve said before, that these are clearly desperate men making things up.”
Court records show John Swallow faces 13 charges, including felony bribery charges, while Shurtleff faces 10 counts that include bribery. The most serious charges for each man come with a maximum penalty of 15 years in state prison.
“This is a sad day for Utah,” Republican Gov. Gary Herbert said in a statement. “The entire situation, regardless of how the legal process plays out, is a black eye for our state.”
Gill, the Salt Lake County district attorney, said the investigation is ongoing and additional charges will likely be filed against both men and others.
It’s unclear if federal charges are being considered, though the FBI said it will continue to investigate a number of leads.
When Swallow walked out of jail Tuesday afternoon, he said he’d known for a few weeks that this was likely to happen.
“I absolutely maintain my innocence,” he said. “This finally gives us the opportunity to start to respond back.”
Swallow, a Republican, said he looks forward to making his case in court “to confront my accusers and to share my side of the story for really the first time.”
Shurtleff, also a Republican, said the charges leveled against him are completely false and motivated by a politically charged investigation by Gill, a Democrat. He accused Gill in charging forward with an incomplete investigation and engaging in political sideshow antics for his own political gain during a re-election year.
Gill defends the investigation and points to cooperation from a Republican county attorney, the state department of public safety and the FBI as evidence that inquiry is not politically motivated.
Shurtleff called it a “sobering experience” to be arrested and recognized making errors in judgment during his tenure in office.
“But I have never intentionally committed any violation of the ethics,” Shurtleff said at an afternoon news conference at his attorney’s office. “I have never misused or abused the public’s trust. And I certainly have not violated any of the criminal laws of the state of Utah.”
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, authorities said. Swallow also used the businessman’s million-dollar houseboat on Lake Powell, according to officials.
Swallow’s former employer, a payday loan titan based in Utah, gave Swallow 12 one-ounce gold coins when he left to join the attorney general’s office, court documents said. Swallow, while working as a chief deputy in the attorney general’s office, later sold back the coins one at time, receiving $17,000 in all.
Both Shurtleff and Swallow stayed at a high-end Newport Beach resort where they enjoyed meals, golf, clothing and massages paid for by another businessman who had been charged earlier with fraud by the Utah attorney general’s office.
They’re also accused of trying to cover up the alleged schemes.
Both have denied all the allegations.
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.
The first bombshell allegations dropped less than a week after Swallow took the oath of office in January 2013, when a businessman in trouble with federal regulators accused Swallow of arranging a bribery plot involving Reid. Reid and Swallow, who pledged to fight white-collar crime during his campaign, denied the allegations.
In the months following, the accusations and investigations snowballed and led to probes by the U.S. Department of Justice, Utah elections officials and the state bar.
An investigation from Utah lawmakers concluded Swallow destroyed and fabricated records and hung a veritable “for sale” sign on the door of the attorney general’s office.
Swallow said any missing records were deleted unintentionally.
Shurtleff, his predecessor, is Utah’s longest-serving attorney general. He left the office in early 2013 after a dozen years in office, but allegations of corruption followed him.
Swallow served as chief deputy for Shurtleff from 2009 to early 2013.
Officials with the state’s pretrial services agreed to let Shurtleff and Swallow out without posting bail, court records show. Initial court appearances have not been set.
Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault and Associated Press reporters Brady McCombs, Annie Knox and Rick Bowmer in Salt Lake City and Michelle Rindels in Las Vegas contributed to this report.