Tim Lawson, confidante and friend to both former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and current AG John Swallow, has bragged about introducing the men to numerous special interests, from convicted felons like Marc Jenson to indicted Internet-marketing mogul Jeremy Johnson. Here’s a recap of some of Lawson’s business associates.---
Editor’s note: This is Part 7 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. Also see parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and this week’s Part 6, about a businessman who met with Swallow and Shurtleff at luxury resort in 2009 and has been involved in a development project that until recently was being investigated by the Utah Attorney General’s Office.
This week’s article “(Un)Arrested Development” looks at how businessman Mark Robbins said he was not involved in a transit-oriented development project after he left the state in 2009 when a $2 million civil judgment was issued against him by a Utah judge. In 2009, then-Attorney General Shurtleff met with a man named Darl McBride, who says Robbins owed him $300,000. McBride says Shurtleff offered to get $2 million from Jenson to give to McBride in exchange for McBride taking down a website about Robbins. McBride says Shurtleff said the website was hurting Robbins’ “business prospects.” The Attorney General's Office was investigating the development project that Robbins was involved in, but since City Weekly reported on Robbins' continued involvement in the project, the investigation has been handed over to federal investigators.
Robbins, besides being one of numerous special interests alleged to have close relationships with both Shurtleff and Swallow, also has another connection to the office—Tim Lawson.
Lawson (pictured), a longtime friend of Shurtleff’s, has capitalized on the friendship to get troubled companies and businesses access to Shurtleff and others. Lawson told City Weekly in an interview in April about some of his clients. “I introduced Swallow and Shurtleff to all these guys ... Jeremy Johnson, Marc Jenson and Mark Robbins—all those people,” Lawson said. “Those are my friends or business associates. They all met [Shurtleff and Swallow] through me and I was never in any meeting where John Swallow was taking bribes or any of that BS.”
When interviewed in April 2013, Lawson denied his connections ever exercised undue influence and was critical of those who blamed his work as a “fixer” in recent scandals that have rocked the Attorney General’s Office.
“I’ve had people from [the Attorney General’s] office call me and tell me this is my fault,” Lawson says. “I said to them, ‘You know what -- how do I put this politically correct? -- go screw yourself.'”
If you’ve had trouble keeping track of the links between Lawson and special interests friendly to the Attorney General’s Office, here’s a recap.
1. Mark Robbins
In 2009, Darl McBride, who claims Robbins owed him $300,000, created the Internet persona of the “Skyline Cowboy” bounty hunter, along with a website that listed information about Robbins and offered rewards for information about Robbins’ whereabouts so that he could serve Robbins with court papers. CW reported McBride telling how Shurtleff met with McBride and offered to buy his silence with $2 million, but before that happened, McBride says, Lawson contacted McBride and made threats of a physical nature if he didn’t take down his website.
Lawson only partially denied the claim, saying that he did threaten McBride because McBride’s bounty hunting could have harmed Robbins’ wife and kids. “You don’t go after somebody’s family like that,” Lawson says, adding that “people like that should be taken out and shot.”
2. Pre-Paid Legal
Lawson also has connections to the multilevel marketing (MLM) company formerly known as Pre-Paid Legal. Minutes from a 2003 Utah County Commissioner’s meeting list Lawson as working for Pre-Paid Legal. The MLM was also a major supporter of Shurtleff’s various campaigns for office. CW reported first how publisher Candace Salima says that in 2009, while Shurtleff was running for the U.S. Senate, he told her that the company planned to buy 100,000 copies of his historical novel, Am I Not a Man? The Dred Scott Story.
The royalties from that sale would have represented more than $100,000 for Shurtleff; he told Salima about the deal at a time when Pre-Paid Legal was facing an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission for alleged misrepresentations made in the company’s sales materials.
3. Mentoring of America
Lawson worked for Mentoring of America, a Utah County-based call center, in 2007 and 2008, tasked with helping with government relations. The company was a part of the online-business-opportunity industry, which calls consumers and sells them on products and coaching services that critics say can max out customers’ credit cards without actually helping them. In early 2008, the company was facing a $113,500 fine from the Utah Division of Consumer Protection for deceptive business practices.
As CW reported, the company was also plagued by drug problems among staff, which Lawson says was why he left the company in 2008. In 2012, the FTC won a judgment against the company and its affiliates for $450 million in damages for deceptive sales practices that affected more than a million consumers across the country.
The company donated $32,500 to Shurtleff's 2008 campaign.
4. Jeremy Johnson
Lawson also takes credit for introducing Shurtleff and Swallow to Johnson, who owned telemarketing business IWorks and was indicted by the FTC in 2011 for allegedly defrauding thousands of consumers out of $275 million. Swallow is also being investigated by federal authorities for Johnson’s allegations that Swallow helped facilitate a bribe on Johnson’s behalf to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., to derail the FTC’s investigation into Johnson (a claim Swallow has publicly denied).
In a Jan. 10, 2008, e-mail Lawson sent to Shurtleff's secretary, he boasted of arranging for $100,000 in donations to Shurtleff from Johnson and his business associates.
5. Marc Jenson
Lawson also says he was paid as much as $200,000 by Jenson to help him in a securities-fraud case that started in 2005. Jenson says Lawson was instrumental in arranging a settlement deal for Jenson that originally meant Jenson did not have to pay restitution to his alleged victims. The judge rejected the deal, however, and instead Jenson agreed to a new deal, where he had three years to provide $4.1 million to his alleged victims. In the summer of 2009, Jenson hosted Shurtleff and Swallow at the luxurious Resort at Pelican Hill near Newport Beach, Calif., where, he says, the two men offered him protection in future legal matters.
In 2009, Brian Kitts enlisted the help of Lawson for political help in a securities-fraud case he had been embroiled in with the Utah Division of Securities for the two years prior. Kitts says enlisting Lawson's help was a mistake, and says that Lawson extorted money from him and said that the money needed to go to certain people, including Shurtleff. In 2010, Kitts says, Lawson even threatened in a text message that he would use his connections to have Kitts thrown in jail if Kitts didn’t send him $7,000. Lawson responded to that claim in CW's 2011 article by saying, “I don’t recall. To be honest with you, I actually do have a medical condition, neurological, that I don’t remember things from one day to the next sometimes.”