Gold coins, posh trips form backdrop in Utah bribery trial

AP News
Posted: Feb 07, 2017 5:31 PM
Gold coins, posh trips form backdrop in Utah bribery trial

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A corruption scandal that prosecutors say connected wealthy businessmen and powerful politicians against a backdrop of luxury vacations, gold coins and a surreptitiously recorded meeting at a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop entered a Utah courtroom Tuesday.

A nearly monthlong trial will decide whether former Utah Attorney General John Swallow's stunning fall from grace will end with a prison sentence. Jury selection is expected to last throughout the day.

He and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, were arrested in 2014, with authorities saying the two hung a virtual "for sale" sign on the door to the state's top law enforcement office, taking campaign donations and gifts such as beach vacations from fraudsters and businessmen in exchange for favorable treatment in investigations.

Swallow, 54, is charged with 13 counts of bribery, evidence tampering and other crimes. Shurtleff, who had been Utah's top lawman for more than a dozen years, saw his charges dismissed last year after a prosecutor cited infighting between agencies in the sprawling probe.

Both men have denied any wrongdoing. Swallow's lawyer says there was no scheme to break laws and the charges are politically motivated.

In a twist, a prosecutor in the case said two years ago that he was going after a big name: U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada. Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings didn't specify the nature of the allegations, but Reid's name had come up before.

A Utah internet millionaire who previously made headlines for flying his personal helicopter to Haiti for earthquake relief said Swallow had offered to bribe Reid. Businessman Jeremy Johnson bolstered his allegations with secret recordings made at a meeting with Swallow at a Krispy Kreme shop.

In that meeting, Johnson references money he says he's given to an associate of Reid's to make an investigation into his online business go away, though Swallow insists the cash would go to lobbyists to help quash the probe.

Reid, the former Democratic U.S. Senate majority leader, has never been charged and was not expected to have a role in the upcoming trial. Reid's spokeswoman has called any alleged connection to the case unsubstantiated.

Rawlings has pushed for a grand jury investigation into the allegations, but so far it has not materialized.

Johnson, who is now in prison after being convicted of lying to banks in his business practices, is on the prosecution's witness list.

Prosecutors also said Swallow took a dozen gold coins from a former employer and payday loan titan, then sold them back for a total of $17,000.

In a case full of twists, Rawlings served up another last year: He dropped all charges against Shurtleff. The prosecutor said he was legally hamstrung by a U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning a corruption case out of Virginia and the refusal of federal investigators to share information about their past investigation into the two former lawmen that ended without charges.

Swallow's lawyer says there's little difference between the cases against the two former attorneys general, and the charges against his client should be dropped as well. Defense attorney Scott Williams has said he could call Rawlings to the stand as one of nearly 70 a witnesses for their side.

But Williams is facing prosecutors in Salt Lake County, where the charges against both men were filed, and they are fighting the idea of putting their colleague on the stand. The judge, meanwhile, has denied efforts to delay or end the case.

Prosecutors have a list of more than 50 people they could call as they work to show a jury that the cozy relationships and posh trips amount to crimes in one of the most high-profile political cases in state history.