Case file Jenson:
The setting was tense in the courtroom on Jan. 10, 2010, as those in the gallery waited for Judge Robin Reese to appear to hear Marc Sessions Jenson explain why he had not paid restitution to victims he was alleged to have defrauded back in 2000. Tense for Jenson that is, who stood awkwardly in the back of the courtroom.
His alleged victims, the Ebeling family—who claim losses of $2.5 million to Jenson, were chatting amiably with Grant Lee, an investor from Idaho who says he lost $1.2 million to Jenson in 2009. The victims swapped stories about the excuses Jenson used when they asked him about their money.
Shortly before the hearing began, a bailiff ordered everyone to take a seat. Jenson, red-faced and with a nervous smile, was forced to sit with his accusers—from whom it’s alleged that he collectively took more than $3.7 million.
Reese told Jenson in the brief hearing that if he had not paid back his victims by May 28, 2011, as per his 2008 settlement agreement with Utah attorneys general, he would be imprisoned for up to seven years in jail. At the bang of the gavel, Jenson quickly darted from the room and had taken only two steps outside of the courtroom before he was served with a civil complaint on behalf of Grant Lee.
[Jenson declined to comment for this story when approached outside his court hearing.]
For Jenson’s critics, his slippery evasions in the courtroom are a far cry from the confidence he displayed when he sought their investments. Throughout the 2000s, Jenson’s office in Utah was adorned with a life-size bronze statue of a Roman soldier and a giant oil painting of Marlon Brando from the Godfather that reinforced Jenson’s larger-than-life persona.
During that time, Jenson was involved in various projects with his brother Steve Jenson, including developing the Mount Holly project, a high-end ski resort that he had acquired in 2002. But in 2005, Jenson’s development efforts were hampered by the five charges of securities fraud and racketeering he received from the Utah Division of Securities for unrelated dealings in 2000, when he collected $12 million in investments from three parties, including Morris Ebeling, and failed to pay them back or make any returns on the investments, which themselves were based on alleged misrepresentations and omissions. According to the state’s complaint, Jenson told some investors he was investing $5 million of his own money into the deal, when he was actually referring to another investor’s money, and he neglected to tell them that he’d served six months in jail in 1992 for bank fraud in California.
Despite his previous record, the initial plea deal presented on May 1, 2008, stated that Jenson would pay $15,000 to the state, serve no jail time, and not be required to pay restitution to the victims. His victims were taken aback, as was the judge, apparently.
Judge Reese rejected the plea deal and forced the state to craft a new agreement. On May 30, 2008, the deal was redrafted and required Jenson to make restitution within three years to the victims. This deal still allowed Jenson to remain a principal in the Mount Holly project, avoid jail time and get the case expunged from his record if he met the terms of the agreement.
Throughout the proceedings, Shurtleff admitted there were attempts to influence him, coming from both sides of the trial. According to campaign filings, Amy White, a wife of one of the victims, had donated $6,500 to Shurtleff’s political campaign. And in a 2008 Deseret News article, Shurtleff told reporter Lee Davidson that someone who had done fundraising for him had been hired to lobby him on the issue, though he did not disclose the identity of that individual.
Sources say that Tim Lawson—a former Shurtleff (pictured at left) campaign volunteer, as well as fundraiser—may have been the person Shurtleff was referring to.
“I did work with [Jenson] for a while as a consultant,” Lawson says, admitting the work also extended to Jenson’s case with the state. “I chose to no longer work with him because he has not done the things necessary to make things right to the people that lost their money in those deals.”
In the summer of 2009, Lawson took Shurtleff to California for a vacation, at Lawson’s expense. “I needed a break and so did [Shurtleff], so I said, ‘Dude, let’s go to California,’ ” Lawson says of the trip, where he says he introduced Shurtleff to Lawson’s extended family along with a number of wealthy donors. It was also where Shurtleff met with Jenson several times.
Shurtleff disputes Lawson’s take on the trip. “It was not a fundraising trip,” he says. Shurtleff says that he stayed with Lawson in California but that it was just to work on his novel, Am I Not a Man? about the life of Dred Scott.
Of his California trip, Shurtleff says, “I never raised any funds, Jenson never raised me any funds, and I never received funds from anybody associated with Jenson.” However—whether it was before or after the California trip, and whether Lawson had a hand in it or not—Shurtleff’s campaign reports from his 2009 Senate race show June 2009 donations from Dale Holt, a business partner with Jenson. According to Utah corporation documents, Holt and Jenson are partners in a company called Ensenada Life Extension, based in California. Holt was listed as donating $7,200 to Shurtleff, as was Holt’s wife, Sheri, who also donated $7,200 to Shurtleff’s campaign.
Shurtleff says that he had dinner with Jenson and later attended an LDS Church service with him during the California trip but that, “all my conversations were, ‘Hey you still owe restitution.’ ”
“The question was asked if I would let them raise money, and the answer was no,” Shurtleff says. “People associated with him may have given me money, but I didn’t know the connections. I made it clear that I didn’t want money from Jenson or anybody associated with Jenson.”
“I took every opportunity to remind Jenson that he was under obligation to pay … his victims. And if he didn’t pay that, he was going to prison,” Shurtleff says. He also says Lawson never spoke to him about Jenson until after the state had settled with Jenson in 2008.
Kitts, the Park City businessman who claims to have hired Lawson to lobby on his behalf, however, recalls Lawson bragging that Jenson paid Lawson $200,000 to help resolve his case with the state. The logic of Jenson’s 2008 settlement was that the hard-money lender could not make his victims whole if he were sitting in jail. Since the 2008 settlement, however, Jenson has not made restitution. He has, however, allegedly made a new victim from Idaho, who claims the smooth-talking businessman took him for $1.2 million in investments, according to a recent civil complaint filed in that state.