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Bad Timing

Questionable donations occurred during AG’s prosecution of white-collar fraud case



The Utah Attorney General’s Office recently released a report showing that former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s behavior in handling a case against Marc Sessions Jenson for securities fraud “defies explanation.” Shurtleff and his successor John Swallow, who resigned in November 2013, have been haunted by the case and allegations by Jenson that the former AGs sought money from him in exchange for offering legal protection.

But what the report didn’t show is that Shurtleff received campaign donations during the same time that he told his prosecutors to settle with Jenson rather than moving forward with prosecution.

The Case
The recent report released by former federal judge and prosecutor Paul Cassell and former U.S. Attorney for Utah Francis Wikstrom focused on the strange history of the AG’s prosecution of Jenson, who in 2005 was charged with multiple counts of securities or investment fraud for taking $4.1 million from several victims.

The Players

The report identifies that Jenson had an “official” team of lawyers arguing his case and an “unofficial” team helping his cause that included Tim Lawson, a friend and confidant of Shurtleff. Lawson is the only person to be charged so far in a criminal investigation into Shurtleff’s and Swallow’s dealings while in office. Lawson has said he used his connections to Shurtleff to lobby on behalf of troubled businesses and businessmen, and says Jenson paid him roughly $200,000 to advocate on Jenson’s behalf.

The report also makes brief mention of a Ryan Poelman, who, Lawson says in an e-mail in the report, would bring Shurtleff campaign donations. At the time, Poelman was affiliated with Bloosky, LLC, and was a VIP guest of Shurtleff’s 2009 inauguration, listed as a major donor.

Blair Jackson, an attorney who represented Bloosky along with various other online marketing companies that have donated to Shurtleff and Swallow, says he doesn’t know anything about Jenson or Lawson but says donations were made to develop a “relationship” with the Attorney General’s Office. Attorneys for Poelman, Lawson and Shurtleff had not returned calls for comment at the time of publication. Shurtleff has gone on KSL’s Doug Wright Show to blast the report as the one-sided allegations of Jenson.

An Abbreviated Timeline

Jan. 3, 2008: State prosecutors Scott Reed and Kirk Torgensen meet with Shurtleff to explain they have a strong case against Jenson that should go to trial. Reed and Torgensen are worried that Shurtleff is being lobbied by Jenson’s “unofficial” team. While the men feel that the meeting convinced Shurtleff, some time shortly after the meeting, Shurtleff changes his mind “out of the blue” and asks them to offer a plea-bargain deal that will settle the case.

Jan. 4, 2008: Campaign records show Shurtleff receives $10,000 from Bloosky, which Poelman works for.

Jan. 10, 2008, 9:22 a.m.: Reed “falls on his sword” and drafts a plea-bargain deal that is vague about requiring Jenson pay restitution to victims. In an e-mail, Shurtleff thanks Reed for drafting the proposal, “even though you had to hold your nose.”

Jan. 10, 2008, 8:10 p.m.: Lawson sends Shurtleff’s secretary an e-mail discussing campaign donations from various sources including a Ryan “Poleman” who will be bringing a $25,000 donation check. When asked about this e-mail in 2011, Lawson told City Weekly via e-mail, “No comment!!!”

Jan. 11, 2008: Shurtleff’s campaign documents show he received $25,000 from Bloosky.

May 1, 2008: After more “informal team” negotiations pushed largely by Lawson, a plea deal is presented to Judge Robin Reese that doesn’t require Jenson pay any restitution to victims. Reese rejects the plea deal as too lenient.

May 29, 2008: A new plea deal is reached, giving Jenson a plea-in-abeyance if he pays back his victims in three years’ time.
Summer 2009: Jenson courts Shurtleff and Swallow at a luxury resort in southern California at his expense.

Nov. 3 2011: Jenson is sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for failing to pay any restitution to his victims. Torgensen tells Shurtleff this, and Shurtleff responds positively in an e-mail that Torgensen describes in the AG’s recent report as a “CYA” (Cover Your Ass) move by Shurtleff to distance himself from Jenson and his involvement in the case.

In the e-mail, Shurtleff calls Jenson a “crook” saying: “[Jenson] lied to me and got a lot of people to lie to me for him AND tried bribing me!” 

Twitter: @EricSPeterson