Acquitted ex-Utah attorney general: I was naive

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A day after he was acquitted on bribery charges to bring an end to one of the highest-profile scandals in state history, former Utah attorney general John Swallow acknowledged Friday that he was naive but innocent of the allegations.

Swallow spoke at length Friday on KSL Radio’s “Doug Wright Show” along with this predecessor and the man also arrested on similar charges in 2014, Mark Shurtleff.

“I was naive and did some things I wish I hadn’t have done, but nothing with any intent to be dishonorable in any way,” Swallow said. “I believe the exoneration last night was an exoneration for his administration and my administration.”

Prosecutors accused Swallow and Shurtleff of hanging a virtual “for sale” sign on the door to the state’s top law enforcement office by taking campaign donations and gifts like beach vacations from fraudsters and businessmen in exchange for favorable treatment.

The arrests of Swallow and Shurtleff culminated a shocking fall from grace for two men who vowed to root out fraud and uphold the laws of Utah as they served a combined 13 years as attorney general.

A jury found Swallow not guilty Thursday night of nine counts that included bribery, obstruction of justice and evidence tampering. He had faced one to 30 years in prison.

Charges against Shurtleff were dismissed last year by prosecutors who cited infighting between agencies in the sprawling probe.

Shurtleff, who was state’s attorney general for more than a dozen years until his term ended at the end of 2012, said Friday he was not only naive but arrogant. He says he believed he was above reproach and put himself in position where he says convicted felons could make up stories about their interactions even if he never changed how he dealt with them.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said in a statement that it was a complex case where jurors were asked to consider matters that weren’t black and white but “various shades of gray.”

“This case fell squarely into the latter category,” said Gill, a Democrat who repeatedly refuted allegations from Swallow and Shurtleff that charges were politically motivated.

Two jurors who agreed to speak to the media said they just weren’t firmly convinced Swallow was guilty of any of the charges after going back through each charge and creating timelines and charts of who said what.

“Without a doubt, almost every time the evidence just wasn’t there to support the allegation,” Melissa Smith said.

“There seemed to be gaps,” added Sandra Buendia, an assistant high school principal.

Swallow resigned in late 2013 after spending nearly 11 months dogged by bribery and corruption allegations that emerged less than a week after he took the oath of office. Swallow adamantly denied breaking any laws and said he stepped down because the scrutiny had become too much for him and his family.

Swallow said Friday the case opened his eyes to the tremendous power the justice system gives prosecutors and the plight of defendants. He vowed to work to fix that in the future. “There’s serious problem in this country between the in balance of power between the prosecution and the defense,” Swallow said.

Shurtleff, who called it “twisted justice” in a tweet he sent out after the verdict was announced, echoed Swallow’s comments.

Prosecutors have “power over your life, your income, the ability to destroy everything, the ability to imprison you,” Shurtleff said. “It needs to be exercised so, so carefully.”

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