Former Utah Attorney General John Swallow waits for the day's proceedings to begin in his public-corruption trial in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. Attorneys for Swallow presented a brief defense Tuesday as one of the biggest political scandals in state history sped toward jury deliberations. (Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, Pool)

Defense: Bribery charges against Utah official desperate

March 01, 2017 - 5:45 pm

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The prosecution's bribery case against a former Utah attorney general is a "house of cards" built on the foundation of a convicted fraudster who can't be believed, a defense attorney said Wednesday during closing arguments.

Prosecutors crafted a desperate, false narrative to make routine political dealings by John Swallow seem criminal, said attorney Scott Williams.

He reminded the jury that before a county prosecutor filed charges, the U.S. Department of Justice declined to file criminal charges after the FBI investigated the case.

At the end of a closing argument that included slide shows with pictures of the "Godfather" movie and the "House of Cards" TV show, Williams asked Swallow to stand up. He then implored the jury to find him not guilty.

"He is a man, a husband, a father, not a politician, not a racketeer," said Williams said. "John Swallow did not commit any crime."

The closings came before a courtroom packed with Swallow's family and friends and other onlookers and capped off a three-week trial tied to one of the highest-profile scandals in state history. Swallow is charged with nine counts, including bribery, evidence tampering and obstruction of justice.

Prosecutors told the jury that Swallow played a key role in a bribery scheme at the state's top law enforcement office that went well beyond the kind of relationships allowed between elected officials and campaign donors.

Swallow received luxury beach vacations, gifts that included use of a fancy houseboat with a helicopter pad, and campaign donations from fraudsters and businessmen in exchange for favorable treatment, Deputy Salt Lake County District Attorney Fred Burmester told the jury.

He closed his argument by showing a photo of Swallow eating lunch at a pool resort with businessmen from whom he is accused of taking bribes.

"This is a picture of corruption," Burmester said.

The former top lawman formed part of a three-prong team that carried out the scheme with business people from industries such as payday lending and multilevel marketing, Burmester said.

Swallow worked at the behest of his predecessor, former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, and alongside Tim Lawson, a businessman who had been investigated by the office, he said. Swallow handled the finances, while Lawson interfered with criminal cases by intimidating witnesses and working as a go-between for Shurtleff and a businessman facing fraud charges, prosecutors said.

Swallow and Shurtleff were arrested in 2014 after authorities said they hung a virtual "for sale" sign on the door of the state's top law enforcement office.

Shurtleff, who served as attorney general for more than a dozen years, had his charges dismissed last year. A prosecutor cited infighting between agencies in the sprawling probe.

Lawson had pleaded not guilty to charges of obstructing justice, witness retaliation and other crimes before he died in 2016.

The jury hearing Swallow's case is expected to begin deliberations Wednesday afternoon.

AP Editorial Categories: 
Comments ()