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Ex-A.G. John Swallow sues Utah for $1.5M in attorney fees after acquittal

FILE - Utah Attorney General John Swallow speaks out Jan. 14, 2013, in his office at the state Capitol about allegations that he was involved in improper deals.
FILE - Utah Attorney General John Swallow speaks out Jan. 14, 2013, in his office at the state Capitol about allegations that he was involved in improper deals.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Former Utah Attorney General John Swallow sued the state Tuesday for $1.5 million in attorney fees racked up defending himself against public corruption charges last year.

Swallow contends that as a public official who was acquitted of a crime, he is entitled to be reimbursed for reasonable attorney fees and costs. He said because he was "erroneously" prosecuted he had to borrow money to defend himself.

"What happened to me represents the darkest side of politics," he said in a prepared statement.

State prosecutors alleged that Swallow was part of a conspiracy with former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and the late Tim Lawson to extort money and favors from a wealthy businessman who had reached a plea deal with the attorney general’s office. All charges against Shurtleff were dropped.

Swallow, a Republican who resigned 11 months into his first term, faced nine criminal charges including pattern of unlawful activity, accepting a gift, bribery, evidence tampering, misuse of public money, obstruction of justice and falsifying a government record.

Prosecutors dropped four charges against him during the course of a four-week trial last year, three of them because a key witness — imprisoned businessman Jeremy Johnson — refused to testify.

Johnson claimed Swallow — in his first week as attorney general in 2013 — helped to set up a $250,000 payment to enlist former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, in an effort to end a Federal Trade Commission investigation into his internet marketing company.

A five-man, three-woman 3rd District Court jury found him not guilty on the remaining charges.

Swallow said he spent the past nine months trying to work out a solution so he could finish paying his attorneys and others. He said he was forced to file a lawsuit in state court because Attorney General Sean Reyes refuses to follow the reimbursement law.

"I hoped to get the matter resolved through negotiations and had even offered a 10 percent discount if it were done quickly. However, to this point, no one has been willing to even discuss the case," he said.

The Utah Attorney General's Office did not have a comment on the lawsuit late Tuesday.

But last May, in response to a Swallow letter seeking attorney fees, the attorney general's office told him he isn't eligible for reimbursement because he wasn't in office at the time of his acquittal. It advises him to submit a claim to the state Board of Examiners, which if granted, would be paid through a legislative appropriation.

Rod Parker, Swallow's attorney said he had hoped to avoid the cost of more litigation, but "decision makers are forcing us to fight for a recovery, as inefficient or unreasonable as that tactic might be."

"This case is based on a statute designed to discourage prosecutorial abuses and to protect innocent public officers, like John Swallow,” Parker said.

Swallow said he is writing a book about his experience and how to survive false allegations. He has formed a company, Change Strategies LLC, through which he said he plans to teach companies and governmental entities how to avoid the "career-altering consequences of false and vindictive allegations."