Jury acquits former Utah attorney general of bribery charges

March 02, 2017 - 8:50 pm

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A former Utah attorney general was acquitted Thursday of bribery and evidence tampering charges in one of the highest-profile scandals in state history.

The jury announced its verdict against John Swallow in a Salt Lake City courtroom following a three-week trial. Jurors found Swallow not guilty of nine counts that also included obstruction of justice, falsifying government documents and misuse of public funds. He had faced one to 30 years in prison.

Prosecutors accused Swallow of hanging a virtual "for sale" sign on the door to the state's top law enforcement office by taking campaign donations and gifts like beach vacations from fraudsters and businessmen in exchange for favorable treatment.

Swallow's defense attorneys argued that the case was a politically motivated smear campaign by a Democratic district attorney up for re-election and that prosecutors were twisting the facts to fit the story they wanted to tell.

Swallow, 54, did not testify during the trial but maintained his innocence from the day he and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, were arrested in July 2014.

Their arrests culminated a shocking fall from grace for two men who vowed to root out fraud and uphold the laws of Utah as they served a combined 13 years as attorney general.

Swallow resigned in late 2013 after spending nearly 11 months dogged by bribery and corruption allegations that emerged less than a week after he took the oath of office. Swallow adamantly denied breaking any laws and said he stepped down because the scrutiny had become too much for him and his family.

The pair were accused of having cozy relationships with several businessmen who plied them with gold coins, lavish trips, flights on private planes and trips aboard a luxury houseboat. They also were accused of trying to cover up the scheme.

Shurtleff already has been cleared in the case. Charges against him were dismissed last year by prosecutors who cited infighting between agencies in the sprawling probe.

During Swallow's trial, prosecutors spent two weeks laying out their case but dropped four counts of money laundering, bribery and evidence tampering after a key witness refused to testify.

Onetime internet millionaire Jeremy Johnson invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself despite the judge ordering him jailed for refusing to answer questions. He was sentenced to federal prison after being convicted of lying to banks in his business. Johnson's lawyers said his testimony could bring him new charges from zealous federal prosecutors despite an immunity agreement with the state.

Swallow's defense attorneys took only a few hours to present their case, spending just a brief time questioning witnesses they brought to clarify what they believed were inaccuracies presented by prosecutors.

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