SALT LAKE CITY — Prosecutors dropped bribery charges against former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who also on Monday gave up his right to an evidence hearing — at least for now.
Shurtleff, 57, appeared in 3rd District Court for a scheduled preliminary hearing. But his attorney, Richard Van Wagoner, asked for and received a conditional waiver from Judge Randall Skanchy. Van Wagoner intends to file motions he apparently believes could affect the case going forward.
"Once those are filed and resolved, then depending on what, if anything, is left of the case, Mark can choose to come back and have a preliminary hearing," he told reporters after the hearing.
At a preliminary hearing, a judge hears witness testimony and evidence, and decides whether the case should go to trial.
Van Wagoner declined to discuss the nature of the motions.
"He is not just not guilty. He is innocent of any wrongdoing. That's where we're headed," he said.
Shurtleff's comments after the hearing were brief.
"This SOB right here — he told me to say that — says I can't say anything," he said standing next to Van Wagoner outside the courtroom. "I'm feeling good. I have great counsel."
Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings dropped three bribery charges and one count of improper use of position but added another charge of accepting a prohibited gift.
In all, Shurtleff is now charged with five felonies — three counts of accepting gifts, bribery to dismiss a criminal proceeding, and obstruction of justice — and two misdemeanors of obstructing justice and official misconduct. He still faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Shurtleff is scheduled to be arraigned on the amended charges June 29.
Van Wagoner said he and Rawlings have been "fighting" for months over the evidence related to the nine felony charges Shurtleff previously faced. He called the bribery counts the "ultimate act of hypocrisy," especially as they related to campaign contributions.
"We're pleased that the pay-to-play, quid pro quo is not in there. It should never have been," Van Wagoner said.
Elected officials are lying to the public and themselves if they believe campaign contributions don't influence them, he said.
"Go to any corporate boardroom, and if you think they're not expecting some benefit, think again. These are not altruistic companies," Van Wagoner said.
Rawlings declined to comment after the hearing.
The charges against Shurtleff and his successor, John Swallow, stem from a nearly two-year investigation into relationships they had with several Utah businessmen, including one in prison and another indicted for fraud.
Swallow, who is charged with 13 felonies, gave up his right to a preliminary hearing last month. Swallow resigned under fire less than a year into his term.
Some of the remaining charges against Shurtleff hinge on to two trips he made to the lavish Pelican Hill Resort near Newport Beach, California, paid for by Marc Sessions Jenson, a Salt Lake businessman the attorney general's office had prosecuted for selling unregistered securities.
Shurtleff personally arranged a plea deal for Jenson that was so lenient that a judge rejected it, the charges state. The judge accepted a second plea agreement that also allowed Jenson to avoid jail but imposed $4.1 million in restitution. Jenson failed to repay investors and is now serving a 10-year prison sentence.
A businessman named Darl McBride also figures into the criminal charges against Shurtleff. McBride was involved in a dispute over a $200,000 loan he made to businessman Mark Robbins but was not repaid. McBride created a website attacking Robbins.
Shurtleff intervened and in a May 2009 meeting at Mimi's Cafe with McBride, which McBride secretly recorded and turned over to criminal investigators, asked what he could do. McBride told him he needed $2 million to back off Robbins. Shurtleff told him he could get the money from Jenson.
A month later, Shurtleff met with Jenson at Pelican Hill where Jenson was living. Jenson, who had yet to pay $4 million in restitution as part of his plea deal, told Shurtleff he didn't have the money.
Shurtleff also allegedly accepted gifts from indicted businessman Jeremy Johnson, who contributed to the former attorney general's campaign. Specifically, prosecutors say he used Johnson's personal jet and stayed at his home. Johnson's trial on 86 counts of fraud related to his Internet marketing company is scheduled for September.
Prosecutors now allege Shurtleff tried to protect Swallow when he pulled the state out of litigation with Bank of America as he was leaving public office. Jim and Jennifer Bell were among those whose homes were foreclosed on during the mortgage crisis and were seeking a settlement from the bank.
The Bells hosted a fundraiser for Swallow's 2012 attorney general campaign that cost $28,000 to put on but that he reported on campaign finance disclosures as a $15,000 in-kind donation and later a $1,000 donation, according to court documents.
Swallow met with Bank of America lobbyists and told a division chief in the attorney general's office that he might have given the bank the impression that if the Bells' case were settled, the state would drop out of the lawsuit. The Bells later accepted a loan modification from the bank.
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