SALT LAKE CITY -- Former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is speaking out following criminal charges being dismissed against him.
"It's an amazing relief!" Shurtleff said in an interview with FOX 13 on Monday. "I can't even put into words how good it feels."
Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings dismissed the case last week, revealing in court papers that federal authorities would not produce evidence that he believed was crucial to a fair trial. The ongoing delays would have also affected Shurtleff's speedy trial rights. Rawlings also said some charges he did not believe he could get a conviction on, and Shurtleff had reached a "cooperation agreement."
For years now, Shurtleff has lived under a cloud after he and his successor, John Swallow, were charged in a massive corruption case. The two were accused of accepting gifts and donations from people facing investigation by the Utah Attorney General's Office. The scandal led to Swallow's resignation after about a year in office.
Shurtleff maintains his innocence.
"Those are absolutely false. There was no pay-to-play," he said of the charges. "There was nobody who I accepted so-called gifts from who were under investigation by the attorney general's office or any other state agency."
Shurtleff said St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson was not under investigation when he used his plane. (Johnson was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison Friday for his role in a credit card fraud case.) The former attorney general also denied interfering in the criminal case leveled against Marc Sessions Jenson, who said he paid for Shurtleff and Swallow to take a trip to a posh California resort at the same time he was under investigation.
Shurtleff said at the time, he was under the impression someone else had paid for the trip.
"There was never anything done that violated Utah law that was unethical or illegal," Shurtleff told FOX 13. "Should I have put myself in positions that people may look at and go, 'Oh, appearance of impropriety?' Then I should not have done that."
Shurtleff said he believes he had become "arrogant" and viewed himself as above reproach, but insists he never promised favors for campaign donations.
"I think in my mind, I can go anywhere and be with anyone and they're not going to have any effect on me," he said. "And it didn't. But it did put me in those situations where people could question and I regret that."
As part of the case being dismissed, Rawlings said a cooperative agreement had been reached. Shurtleff told FOX 13 he has signed nothing.
"I want to make this very clear: this was not a plea deal. This wasn't, 'If you testify against John Swallow or somebody else, we will dismiss the charges.' That was never discussed," he said. "If I'm called to testify in the John Swallow case I'll testify truthfully to what I know."
Shurtleff praised Rawlings for dismissing the case.
"Kudos to him. It's ethical for him to say, 'I have a duty to give this to Mr. Shurtleff. It's in the Constitution,'" he said.
In an unusual move, prosecutors and the defense jointly pushed a judge to order the U.S. Justice Department to release information it gathered as part of its investigation into Swallow and Shurtleff. The U.S. Attorney's Office for Colorado, which handled evidence issues for the feds, insisted it had provided terabytes of data. Shurtleff said much of that data was useless.
He was critical of Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and investigators for bringing the case in the first place. Shurtleff said Gill went after him for political reasons. He claims investigators lied about evidence they had, saying they claimed to have him on video accepting a bribe when it was he who agreed to wear a wire for them in the first place.
Reached for comment, Gill pointed to numerous investigations by the federal government, U.S. Department of Justice, the Utah State Legislature and the Lt. Governor's Office.
"I must have incredible power to orchestrate all of those," he told FOX 13. "Mr. Shurtleff gives me far more power than I possess."
Shurtleff said he is contemplating a lawsuit.
"I don't want this to be about revenge. But if they do these things -- if law enforcement and criminal justice will violate civil rights and breach their promises and sworn oaths to hurt people -- if they'll do it to me, they'll do it to others," he said. "I think the only way to stop that is hold them accountable and that may be a lawsuit."
The former Utah Attorney General said his experience as a criminal defendant has made him reflect on cases under his tenure and how people may have been treated by law enforcement. He became emotional describing how terrified his daughter was when police showed up with guns and body armor to serve a search warrant on his home.
Shurtleff said the criminal chase has destroyed his reputation and nearly bankrupted his family. He said he is working to get back on his feet and considering writing a book of his experiences.
Asked if he would ever consider getting back into politics, Shurtleff was quick to reply: "Nope. No. No way."
"I'm a recovering politician," he joked, describing the toll his years in office took on his family life. "If I do? Frankly? Not sure I'll run as a Republican."