Elections office: Utah AG likely violated laws

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A damning report released Friday shows Utah’s attorney general deliberately withheld information from his campaign documents last year and tried to influence a probe into the matter by altering witness statements and apparently destroying documents.

The findings of the four-month investigation by the Utah lieutenant governor’s office, which oversees elections, were released less than 24 hours after Attorney General John Swallow announced he was resigning due to the toll of ongoing investigations.

The report shows Swallow deliberately concealed about a half dozen business interests and tens of thousands of dollars in income from his campaign disclosure forms leading up to the 2012 election.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox will review the recommendations and decide what action to take next, including pursuing civil penalties.

Phone messages with Swallow’s personal attorney were not immediately returned Friday. Swallow’s spokesman Ryan Bruckman said the attorney general did not yet have a comment on the matter. His resignation takes effect on Dec. 3.

The findings focus primarily on finances, but a separate section under the category “cooperation, attitude and credibility” shows how he attempted to influence the outcome of the probe in his favor.

The report cites “apparent document destruction” that resulted in a massive amount of information being lost.

Investigators found numerous inconsistencies between what Swallow said and what the evidence bore out, saying “implausible explanations raise questions and suspicions about his credibility.”

As Swallow announced his resignation Thursday, he vigorously denied breaking any laws and instead cited the strain the “perfect storm” of allegations has put on his family.

The findings cap 10 months of investigations and allegations of bribery, misconduct and shady dealings that gnawed at the 51-year-old Republican during his short tenure.

Swallow’s resignation marked an abrupt end to an otherwise quick political ascension and leaves the state’s top law enforcement office in limbo just a year after Swallow was elected to a four-year term.

Under state elections law, Cox could forward the issue to a state judge. The judge could impose several penalties, including declaring Swallow’s election void and removing him from office.

Mark Thomas, Cox’s chief deputy and the state director of elections, said Friday that the lieutenant governor was still reviewing the matter and determining how Swallow’s resignation could affect that path.

Thomas said that if the office is declared vacant by a judge or if Swallow’s resignation stands, the process for replacing Swallow would be the same.

Republican Gov. Gary Herbert will choose from among three GOP-picked candidates to fill the office. That person will serve as attorney general until a special election can be held next November. The Utah GOP will pick three candidates on Dec. 14.

Utah Democrats say they’re poised to raise a legal challenge to that replacement process, and have said they’re working with attorneys to determine if a full election should be held sooner.

Among the violations uncovered by investigators was that Swallow should have disclosed that he received $17,000 from pay-day loan company Check City in exchange for 12 gold coins. The company paid Swallow $1,400 more than the coins were worth, and though Swallow said he intended to repay the company, that payment was never made, investigators found.

Swallow also should have documented that he managed and was paid by several consulting companies, including P-Solutions LLC, that did work for a cement project in Nevada, investigators found.

“I think it’s really important for the public to recognize that these were real things,” said Maryann Martindale with the Alliance for a Better UTAH, the left-leaning group that filed the elections complaint against Swallow. “This isn’t just a bunch of people who were out there trying to smear John Swallow, as he was trying to claim.”

Just over a year ago, Swallow sailed into office with nearly two-thirds of the vote. But within a week after he took office in January, he was accused of engaging in questionable financial dealings with a businessman facing federal fraud charges. The allegations triggered a series of investigations and calls for his resignation.

Swallow has been accused of arranging a bribery plot and trading offers of protection in return for favors from several businessmen. He is also accused of violating attorney-client privilege while in office. He has been or is currently being investigated by the state elections office, two county attorneys, the Utah House, the FBI, the Department of Justice and the Utah State Bar.

At his nearly half-hour news conference Thursday, Swallow was defiant and repeatedly accused the Utah House of launching a politically driven investigation and cited his concerns about the amount of public money they were spending.

Swallow estimated he has so far spent about $300,000 of own money defending himself.

“Now is the time for the madness to stop and for the state to move forward,” Swallow said. “The toll on my family, the toll on my office and the toll on our finances has been too much. It is time for it to stop.”

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