Tribune Reporters Discuss Swallow, Shurtleff Scandal

Nearly everyone has heard of the alleged misconduct of former Utah Attorneys General John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff, but not many know how that story first went public.
On Wednesday, Sept. 10, reporters from The Salt Lake Tribune spoke about their part in exposing the misdeeds of the two Utah politicians.
The auditorium of the City Library slowly filled with interested Utah residents, with about 150 people in attendance when the town hall style meeting began. Several audience members came with recent Salt Lake Tribune articles concerning the scandal in hand.
The Tribune’s Jennifer Napier-Pearce led the discussion with reporters Tom Harvey and Robert Gehrke adding their input. Napier-Pearce said the meeting was to celebrate transparency in journalism rather than the downfall of the two politicians.
The newspaper ran its first story on the scandal just four days after Swallow was sworn in as Attorney General, looking into possible misconduct. The paper’s coverage has continued through the July 15, 2014 arrest of both Swallow and Shurtleff and is currently following their procession through the Utah court system where they face a combined 23 charges. Documents related to the case allege that Shurtleff and Swallow lived a life of luxury filled with all-expense-paid vacations, private jets, houseboats and under-the-table gifts.
Robert Gehrke said the entire series of investigative pieces began with a single rumor of influence peddling.
“There was a lot of smoke, but we couldn’t get to the fire,” Gehrke said. “We knew there were large contributions coming into Shurtleff’s campaign for attorney general and that John Swallow was Shurtleff’s chief campaign fundraiser. This raised a lot of red flags.”
For some of the stories Gehrke depended on indicted businessman Jeremy Johnson for information.
“He would give me details, documents, recordings, emails that were about a political scandal,” he said.
Johnson allegedly donated more than $200,000 to the Shurtleff campaign and formed a close relationship with Shurtleff and Swallow. The former attorneys general also supposedly took a trip to Pelican Hills in Newport Beach on Johnson’s dime. On the receipts from the vacation, shown at the meeting, items include rounds of golf, expensive clothing and massages for Swallow and his wife.
Gehrke said when Shurtleff suspected disloyalty on Johnson’s behalf, he began to put pressure on his team in the attorney general’s office to get Johnson sent back to jail, where he sits today.
Recordings of some interactions between Johnson and Swallow were played at the town hall meeting, with one where Swallow said he had done nothing wrong and there was no crime that could be attributed to his name.
Despite the continued evidence being uncovered by The Tribune’s reporters in Sept. 2013, the case was dropped in Oct. 2013.
“It was a low point,” Harvey said. “I felt at first like a year and a half of my life had been wasted on this case. I had to question whether we were the next in line of a series of victims who had been scammed by Johnson.”
Then on November 21, 2013, Swallow resigned from his political post. Now the combined 2nd and 3rd degree felonies, along with the misdemeanor charges Swallow faces add up to a total of 115 years in prison maximum. However, Utah has a law stating the time cannot go more than 30 years. Shurtleff, who served as attorney general for 12 years, has all felony charges and would be facing a maximum of 120 years in prison.
“Just like Watergate, it was the cover-up, not just the crime,” Gehrke said.
As of September 10, 2014, The Tribune ran its 307th article on the Shurtleff and Swallow scandal. The latest development is a motion on behalf of Shurtleff’s attorney to have all documents involved in the trial released to him for review.
The town hall meeting was streamed live on The Tribune’s website and also cast on KCBW. Napier-Pearce encouraged all audience members to tweet questions using #tribtalk.
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