Wednesday, August 21, 2013

John Swallow's Untraceable Campaign-Money Cards

Posted By on August 21, 2013, 8:00 AM

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Attorney General John Swallow's campaign-disclosure documents show that he used campaign funds to purchase Green Dot cards. These products are untraceable bank cards that allow a user to send or access funds from undisclosed individuals, even from overseas accounts.---

Editor’s note: This is Part 3 of The Swallow Files, a series of online and print stories examining notes, observations and overlooked elements of the ongoing Swallow scandal, as the Legislature begins its lengthy investigation into the attorney general’s fitness as a public servant. See Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Swallow's campaign-disclosure documents filed with the Utah Elections Office show that during his 2012 run for the Attorney General's Office, he made five separate expenditures for “Greendot.” The expenditures are between $4.95 and $5.95 for each purchase. In some cases, he describes the expenditures as “bank fees.”

But, Green Dot is no bank. While Green Dot bills its cards as prepaid debit cards, they don't necessarily link to any bank account and can be completely untraceable. They can be purchased using cash at gas stations and Walmart retail outlets. A purchaser can place up to $500 on each card, using cash when they purchase the card. The number to the card can then be given to another individual to access the card and even transfer money to a bank account, creating anonymous transactions.

While Swallow would not comment for this piece, his campaign manager, Jason Powers, responded via e-mail to say that the Green Dot cards were simply effective tools for the campaign to take care of its petty-cash needs.

“The only funding source for the Green Dot cards was the campaign itself,” Powers writes via e-mail. “The cards improved reporting and accountability by creating an electronic record of transactions, while simultaneously meeting the campaign's petty-cash needs. All expenditures have been reported on previous financial reports.”

Swallow's records show that he also used bank accounts for covering campaign expenses.

Since Green Dot cards can be bought with cash, the card's owner can effectively be anonymous. Like prepaid “burner” cell phones that offer the opportunity for discreet communication, the cards offer a discreet means of transferring money. The cards have been a major source of concern in recent years for law enforcement worried that the cards can be used for illicit activity.

In a recent Salt Lake Tribune article, the U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah had even warned that the product was being used by con artists, who would call victims and have them pay for outstanding warrants to avoid arrest. Since the victims would pay off their “warrant” through a Green Dot card, law enforcement cannot trace where the money actually ends up.

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