SALT LAKE CITY — Two former Utah attorneys general who avoided convictions in a bribery case that was one of the highest-profile scandals in state history said Friday they were naive and made missteps but that the justice system got it right in not convicting them.
The Utah Democratic party chair, meanwhile, said he worries that other Republican leaders in the mostly-GOP state will now believe they are above the law after seeing how John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff avoided prison time.
A jury found Swallow not guilty Thursday night of nine counts that included bribery, obstruction of justice and evidence tampering. Shurtleff's case was dismissed last summer.
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 in exchange for favourable 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.
"I was naive and did some things I wish I hadn't have done, but nothing with any intent to be dishonourable in any way," said Swallow on KSL Radio's "Doug Wright Show" (http://bit.ly/2mjJGgn). "I believe the exoneration last night was an exoneration for his (Shurtleff's) administration and my administration."
Shurtleff, who was state's attorney general for more than a dozen years until his term ended at the end of 2012, said he also feels vindicated by the verdict. Though he wasn't on trial, his name was peppered throughout the trial as prosecutors told jurors he and Swallow worked together to carry out a "pay for play scheme."
Shurtleff said he realizes he was naive and arrogant and put himself in a position where convicted felons could make up stories about their interactions even if he never changed how he dealt with them.
Shurtleff said he plans to file state and federal lawsuits alleging abuse of power against authorities who investigated and charged him in the bribery case. He also plans to file a lawsuit on behalf of his family for the trauma they endured during a search warrant execution in the lead up to his arrest.
"It's not about getting revenge," Shurtleff said. "I'm just shocked and appalled at the unethical conduct."
But Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon remains skeptical. He said the jury's acquittal of Swallow and prosecution's dismissal of Shurtleff's case doesn't mean they didn't commit ethical violations. Corroon still questions why the two top lawmen were associating at all with people like that.
He says the root problem is that Republicans dominate Utah's political leadership, creating a "one-party system" lacking in checks and balances. Swallow and Shurtleff are Republicans.
"The verdict gives license to the Republicans to believe that they are beyond the law, which is troubling," Corroon said.
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 grey ."
"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.
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.
Shurtleff, who called it "twisted justice" in a tweet he sent out after the verdict was announced, echoed Swallow's comments by saying people should not believe everything authorities say.
"Be aware that there are those in the law enforcement and criminal justice system who will abuse your rights," Shurtleff said.
Brady McCombs, The Associated Press