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As Utah political scandals go, Shurtleff/Swallow saga tops the chart

Published July 16, 2014 7:34 am

History • Arrest of past two attorneys general marks state's biggest corruption scandal ever.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah has a long list of famous political scandals from the bizarre saga of first-term Congresswoman Enid Greene, whose five-hour tear-filled news conference and federal fugitive husband grabbed national headlines, to Rep. Douglas Stringfellow, whose campaign-trail tales of World War II behind-enemy-lines heroics began to unravel after his appearance on a national TV show profiling celebrities.

None though can compete in terms of impact and scale with the double arrests Tuesday of Utah's past two attorneys general, Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow.

The two men — now facing 23 counts, including multiple charges of bribery, witness and evidence tampering and obstruction of justice — occupied the state's highest law-enforcement office for a combined 13 years.

"It's enormous," USU political science professor Michael Lyons said. "When a scandal touches the administration of justice this fundamentally, it's a very serious matter."

Among the charges against the two are allegations that they used the office as an auction house of sorts — selling their leniency or support in exchange for money and gifts. In one case, it is alleged, the state dropped a lawsuit against Bank of America on behalf of thousands of Utah homeowners fighting foreclosure right around the time Shurtleff was negotiating a job (his exit strategy from office) with a law firm representing the financial giant.

That makes the Greene affair — essentially a case of illegally funneling a relative's money into the winning election campaign — pale in comparison.

Same with the solicitation-of-a-prostitute charge that blew up the career of U.S. Rep. Allen Howe, D-Utah; and the ethics and intern accusations that prevented state Rep. Mel Brown from taking his place in history as the first three-term speaker in the Utah House.

Sex and booze play a role in many of the Utah political scandals, including the remarkable bookends of the 2010 Legislature. Then-Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack was arrested on a drunken-driving charge just days before the opening of the session and, on its final night, House Majority Leader Kevin Garn took the floor to confess a quarter-century old nude interlude in a hot tub with a minor.

There was no liquor nor lasciviousness involved in the Shurtleff/Swallow scandals — at least, so far as we know. But the allegations of flat-out corruption by the two is stunning in a more profound way.

"The others we see are somewhat like gnat bites, and this one is more like a shark attack," said Kelly Patterson, a Brigham Young political scientist. "This is different because it involves an elected official directly and where the connection between something given and something gained seems so direct and such an overt violation of the public trust. That's why it just seems so shocking to our sensibilities.

"With the magnitude and the breadth if it," he added, "it's hard to imagine what would top it."

Here are the other inductees of Utah's political scandal hall of shame:

Interactive graphic online

To view an interactive graphic of Utah's top political scandals, go to sltrib.com.