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SALT LAKE CITY – Utah's top lawman was enmeshed in a power-and-greed scheme that brought in thousands of dollars and luxury trips from businessmen on the wrong side of the law, prosecutors said Wednesday during opening arguments in his trial.
Former Utah Attorney General John Swallow is charged with 13 counts, including bribery and evidence tampering, in one of the highest-profile scandals in state history.
The allegations include illicit gifts of gold coins from a now-deceased payday loan titan, stays on luxury houseboats and a trip to a high-end California resort with a businessman who prosecutors say got a sweetheart deal in a fraud case.
"You have this power-greed-corruption triangle here. That's the basis for this story," prosecutor Chou Chou Collins said.
But Swallow's defense attorney Scott Williams contended the case is a smear campaign against a successful politician, and prosecutors are twisting the facts to fit the story they want to tell.
"It's not cloak and dagger. It's not criminal," he said.
He acknowledged that Swallow was willing to hear out people from scrutinized industries like payday lending, multilevel marketing and health supplements but said that was a matter of fairness, not corruption.
"Everybody should be listened to on all sides of the political spectrum, including individuals that weren't popular," Williams said.
Swallow's predecessor Mark Shurtleff, who served in the state's top law enforcement office for more than a decade, also faced similar allegations, but his case has been dismissed.
The prosecution is expected to call dozens of witnesses to make its case, while defense attorneys could bring up dozens more as they fight the charges. The trial is expected to last nearly a month.
Defense witnesses could include the prosecutor who dropped the case against Shurtleff.
Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning a corruption case out of Virginia and the refusal of federal investigators to share information about their past investigation into the two former Utah lawmen that ended without charges.