Prosecutors drop some charges against John Swallow mid-trial

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Just before resting their case against him, prosecutors dismissed three charges against former Utah Attorney General John Swallow.

Deputy Salt Lake County Attorney Chou Chou Collins asked the judge to dismiss a bribery, evidence tampering and a money laundering charge. Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills granted the request. The jury was then summoned into the room to hear Collins announce the charges being dismissed.

Former Utah Attorney General John Swallow in court on Feb. 22, 2017.

Former Utah Attorney General John Swallow in court on Feb. 22, 2017.

The bribery and money laundering charges that were dropped focus on claims that Swallow was soliciting money to give to Nevada Sen. Harry Reid on behalf of Jeremy Johnson, a St. George businessman who was facing a Federal Trade Commission investigation at the time. The money, prosecutors alleged, was meant to influence the then-Senate Majority Leader (who has denied any knowledge of it).

The evidence tampering charge centers around claims that Swallow tampered with his calendar to remove some appointments.

"Having no evidence of that presented at trial, apparently the state acknowledged it and are not pursuing it," Swallow's defense attorney, Scott Williams, told reporters outside of court.

That leaves 10 charges against Swallow, who faces accusations of a "pay to play" scheme in the Utah Attorney General's Office. He resigned after about a year in office in the face of mounting investigations.

"Every trial is fluid and sometimes as the evidence or situation changes so does what we can prosecute," Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said in a message.

The prosecution's case ended with many witnesses offering testimony helpful to the defense, and one of their biggest witnesses refusing to testify at all. Johnson, who is serving an 11-year federal prison sentence for making false statements in connection with a federal fraud case, invoked his Fifth Amendment right to questions asked of him on the witness stand.

Jeremy Johnson leaves the witness stand after refusing to testify in the John Swallow trial on Feb. 16, 2017. (Courtroom pool image)

Jeremy Johnson leaves the witness stand after refusing to testify in the John Swallow trial on Feb. 16, 2017. (Courtroom pool image)

Johnson's attorneys argued he did not believe he had immunity from federal prosecutors for anything he would say on the witness stand. He was found in contempt of court.

"Certainly his not testifying affected their ability to put on evidence," Williams said.

Testimony from an FBI agent also sparked some heated disagreement between prosecutors and defense. On the witness stand, Special Agent Jon Isakson revealed to the jury that the FBI asked the U.S. Department of Justice to drop the case against former Utah Attorneys General Mark Shurtleff, Swallow and an associate, Tim Lawson. Isakson testified that FBI agents were worried about the statute of limitations expiring on Lawson, so they went forward with the state prosecuting the case.

The testimony was in violation of a court order that forbade disclosure of why the feds dropped the case. After arguments Thursday morning, the judge read a special instruction to the jury and urged them to disregard a portion of the testimony.

On the witness stand Thursday morning, Isakson also revealed that the FBI has an ongoing investigation into a development deal involving the Utah Transit Authority.

The case is winding down, with defense attorneys asking Judge Hruby-Mills to issue what's called a "directed verdict," dismissing the case. The judge heard arguments on it Thursday afternoon, but did not immediately issue a ruling.

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