Lawson says this friendship was forged back on the campaign trail of 2000, when Lawson was running for governor against Michael Leavitt, and Shurtleff ran against Reed Richards for attorney general. It was at the 2000 GOP convention that Lawson established his flair for the dramatic. Claiming Leavitt’s administration had increased the size of government, Lawson addressed delegates wrapped in chains, meant to symbolize the oppressive nature of Leavitt’s big-government policies, according to a May 8, 2000, article by Paul Rolly in The Salt Lake Tribune.
“[Lawson] shouted, ‘Are we all Republicans?’ Back came a resounding ‘Yes!’ ‘Are we for smaller government?’ ‘Yes!’ ‘Are we for lower taxes?’ ‘Yes!’ ‘Do I have your vote?’ ‘No!’ ” Rolly reported.
Politically speaking, Lawson garnered few votes in that race and the two subsequent failed political campaigns in the past dozen years—but the friends he acquired along the way instilled in Lawson a sense that he was close to the seat of power, if not truly sitting in it. The 45-year-old Orem resident has, since launching his political forays, supported his wife and eight children through entrepreneurial ventures that have ranged from telemarketing to hovercraft construction and, apparently, as a part-time political consultant.
Lawson touted his political connections to executives in the Utah call-center industry and advertised himself as having a hook-up for troubled companies who wanted to reach out to the top attorney of the state. Some companies appear to have reached out to Lawson, having him intercede on their behalf with the attorney general. In some instances, making introductions has profited Lawson and made new campaign supporters for Shurtleff. Other clients of Lawson’s services claim he sold them on a lie.
“He’s got no clout anywhere, he just has a big mouth,” says Brian Kitts, a Park City businessman who enlisted Lawson’s help when he got into trouble with the Utah Division of Securities. Kitts admits he paid Lawson based on his claims of having Shurtleff’s ear, but says that not only did Lawson fail to lobby on his behalf, but that when he stopped paying him, Lawson threatened “extortion,” saying he would use his connections to have Kitts thrown in jail.
“I hear these rumors about Lawson, and I’ve told him many times he cannot represent that he has an ‘in’ with this office, that [he] cannot threaten people,” Shurtleff says of the friendship.
“He apologizes and says, ‘Sometimes I get talking too much and say things.’ ” Shurtleff says of Lawson.
But if Lawson feels apologetic to Shurtleff, he remains unapologetic about his calling as a fixer, a problem solver, a do-right man.
“I’m like Joseph Smith, I’m known for better and worse. I’m like a modern-day Porter Rockwell [Joseph Smith’s vengeful bodyguard]. I protect those people that I love and care about,” Lawson says, making both comparisons in the same breath.
Lawson insists that he never uses his powers for evil, repeating that he is “black and white, and not gray.” But for being a black-and-white individual, Lawson has no problem operating in a gray area of politics: working with individuals in trouble with state law, be they call-center companies that have had run-ins with the Utah Department of Consumer Protection or, as City Weekly has now discovered, individuals like Marc Sessions Jenson (pictured at left), who was accused by state attorneys general throughout the late 2000s of conducting securities fraud.
Lawson says that with his skills and connections, he can get things done for people better than lawyers, who, Lawson says, “tend to confuse everything.” Lawson prefers a moniker taken straight from City Weekly’s April 9, 2009, article [“Called Into Question”] where he was described as a “Mormon version of Michael Clayton—the troubled lawyer-turned-corporate fix-it man from the film of the same name.”
In an e-mail, Lawson thanks a reporter for the nickname, “Timothy Michael Clayton,” or “TMC” which he uses to close e-mails. “It just stuck,” Lawson writes.
From Candidate to
Since 1998, Lawson has run for state Senate in Utah County’s District 15, for the Utah County Commission and even governor, when he ran against Michael Leavitt in 2000, all ending with three massive margins of loss.
Ever the reformer, in 2007, Lawson fought Orem city’s plan to spray parts of the city to stem a Japanese beetle invasion, claiming the pesticide would exacerbate an autoimmune disease that he and his family suffered from. He even threatened the city with a religious-discrimination lawsuit—claiming pesticides would poison his garden and that gardening was a strict tenet of his faith as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“We’re commanded to [garden] by our prophet,” Lawson told a reporter for The Salt Lake Tribune in March 2007. Despite the challenge, Lawson never filed suit, and the city began its eradication efforts. In response, Lawson bought a new home.
The summer following Lawson’s anti-pesticide campaign in 2007, he was hired by the call-center company Mentoring of America. Touting his connections made during his forays into politics, Lawson admits he lobbied state government on behalf of the company that faced multiple administrative citations from the Utah Department of Consumer Protection for allegations of consumer fraud. Lawson credits bringing MOA executives together to meet with Shurtleff. As was covered in City Weekly’s story “Called Into Question” [April 9, 2009], the MOA executives later donated $32,500 to Shurtleff’s campaign ($30,000 of which Shurtleff later returned).
It wouldn’t be the only company in the industry Lawson would introduce to Shurtleff. According to e-mails obtained through a records request, Lawson also arranged a Jan. 16, 2008, meeting between Shurtleff and a St. George Internet marketing company known as IWorks so that Shurtleff could accept a campaign donation. In 2008, the company would give Shurtleff $50,000 in campaign donations.
The donations came barely a month after multiple charges of fraud brought through the Utah Department of Consumer Protection had been dismissed against the company, causing Shurtleff’s then-Democratic challenger in the 2008 election, Jean Welch Hill, to blast Shurtleff for not using conflict-of-interest forms in the attorney general’s office. Since attorneys general represented Consumer Protection in the case, Hill said conflict-of-interest forms would have alerted Shurtleff to the appearance of impropriety for accepting donations from a company his office had brought charges against.
Corine Cyphers worked on Lawson’s MOA call-center sales team in July 2007 and saved money on rent by residing at Lawson’s spacious new residence, away from the pesticide spraying in Orem—a 7,500-square-foot Tudor mansion in Provo. Cyphers helped out by cleaning up around the house and cooking meals for Lawson’s family.
She recalls Lawson as a man devoted to his work, his family, friends and his faith. He was gone early in the morning and returned late at night. Sometimes, his work came home with him, as Cyphers remembers the day that several executives from call center Mentoring of America came over to the house and asked Lawson to help out their friend Marc Sessions Jenson—a hard-money lender behind an as-yet-unrealized high-end ski-resort development in central Utah—who was facing five second-degree felony charges of securities fraud and one charge of racketeering from the Utah Division of Securities.
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.
Case file Kitts:
By late September 2009, Brian Kitts was already more than two years into his case of alleged securities fraud brought by the Utah Division of Securities against a nutritional supplement company owned by Kitts for securities fraud and theft. Kitts, a soft-spoken 52-year-old Toronto, Canada, native says his business practices have been aboveboard, but he does admit he screwed up in 2009 when he agreed to meet with Lawson about his case.
“[Lawson] said, ‘I need $20,000. There are certain things I have to do with that money, certain places that money’s got to go,’ ” Kitts recalls. Kitts agreed he would avail himself of Lawson’s services but told him he could not give him $20,000 up front but would make smaller, periodic payments.
Kitts recalls Lawson calling him only days later saying: “I need $9,000 for Shurtleff, and I need it tonight or tomorrow night—cash.” [Shurtleff says he never received any donations from Kitts nor does he know who he is. Shurtleff’s campaign report shows that no donations were received from Kitts or Lawson.] Kitts said he refused this request.
“That’s a flat-out lie,” Lawson says of Kitts claims that Lawson was seeking money for Shurtleff. Lawson says that while he talked to Kitts, he never really took on his case, believing Kitts to be “disingenuine [sic] to the core.”
Kitts says Lawson’s first instruction was for Kitts to hire Lawson’s personal attorney to handle his case. Beyond that, Kitts soon began to doubt Lawson could follow up on his talk.
On April 30, 2010, Kitts says he received in one day 14 text messages from Lawson, telling him that he was losing his house and needed more money. According to Kitts, this was not a polite request—it was a threat.
Kitts says one text demanded he pay $7,000 or Lawson would see to it that Kitts landed in jail. When Kitts told Lawson he was threatening extortion, “[Lawson] said, ‘I don’t give a fuck what it is, I am untouchable in this state.’ ”
When asked about this text by a reporter, Lawson dismissed it: “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.” Lawson says a recent MRI scan showed a number of tumors in his brain. He believes these tumors may be affecting his memory.
“I don’t honestly recall. So whether that’s true or not, I don’t really care,” Lawson says. “I don’t like the man.”
Both Kitts and Lawson say developments in Kitts’ case speak to each other’s credibility. Kitts in late October 2010 had entered into a plea agreement after two years of negotiating with the state. What originally was recommended in 2009 to be two misdemeanor charges of failure to disclose facts to investors were in 2010 bumped up to felony charges that included theft. Kitts says that by establishing a trust account that would allow investors in his company to cash out if they so chose, the attorney Lawson recommended told him he would face only one year of probation. After Kitts agreed, he says he discovered that his attorney failed to disclose to him that by pleading to a felony he would likely be deported back to Canada, since Kitts is currently only a temporary resident.
Kitts says that between jail time or deportation, he chose to move back in with family in Alberta, Canada, while his new attorneys attempt to withdraw his plea agreement based on the March 2010 Padilla vs. Kentucky U.S. Supreme Court decision that requires defense lawyers to fully brief their clients on immigration ramifications involved when they make plea deals—something Kitts says was never explained to him by the attorney Lawson recommended.
Lawson, in turn called a reporter to point out that Kitts had “fled jurisdiction. … These are the kinds of people you’re dealing with,” Lawson said.
As for Kitts, he admits the situation looks bad but says he had no choice. “I never asked for this to happen,” Kitts says. “You don’t know what it’s like when you’ve got this freight train coming down on you and your family, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”
Case file Jenson:
“The Godfather Part II”
While Lawson may have hosted Shurtleff in California in the summer of 2009 while he was employed by Jenson, Lawson appears to have been busy with Jenson on another front—fighting for ownership of Mount Holly. At the time, Mount Holly partners such as Shane Gadbaw were seeking to continue development without Jenson and his brother. Gadbaw and the Jenson brothers ended up in a litigation dispute over who could develop the property. Their case was resolved in October 2009, and Gadbaw and partners have since reopened the ski resort as Eagle Point and changed it from a destination resort for the uber-rich to a public ski resort.
In a letter sent by Shane Gadbaw’s attorney, Kevin Reed, to Lawson, the attorney challenged Lawson for threatening his client on April 6, 2009, while supposedly acting as a “corporate facilitator” on behalf of Marc Sessions Jenson.
“You told Mr. Gadbaw that the arbitration would fail; that he should be worried about criminal charges; and that you had been present in the office of the Utah Attorney General when the criminal charges you were speaking about had been discussed,” Reed writes. The letter attached several text messages sent by Lawson to Gadbaw. One message sent from Lawson on April 8 indicated that Lawson, “can be a persons best friend or Not. Either way I’m not someone that deals lightly with my commitment to do what I set out to do!” [sic]. [Gadbaw would not comment for this story but did acknowledge Lawson’s attempts at lobbying him.]
In a text sent April 18, 2009, Lawson hinted that he would fly to New York to tell investors about pending criminal charges: “I truly look forward to matching my specific set of skills up against what I’ve heard of ur’s! This will be fun! So bro when I get into NY next week u buy dinner 1st I’ll getvit the next time! [sic]”
An hour later, Lawson texted again to elaborate on his plans: “Oh by the way boys I have 6 CRIMINAL complaints that I’m bringing with me to share with all that have interest in ur activities. We can do this easy or hard. My preference is hard but that’s just me!?!”
Lawson again does not deny involvement in the corporate sparring, but denies that he heard about any criminal complaints from the Attorney General’s Office, insisting he heard about the complaints through his sources. Shurtleff likewise says Lawson would never be privy to any of his office’s official business. “I don’t discuss potential litigation or criminal prosecutions with him,” Shurtleff says. No criminal complaints have been filed against Gadbaw.
Ironically, in the April 8, 2009, text message, Lawson says in the same line that he is “black and white no gray & can be a persons best friend or Not.” When asked what Lawson was suggesting by saying he could be a person’s best friend or not or do things the hard way or the easy way, Lawson draws a blank.
“I don’t recall. I’m not avoiding your question, I’m just saying I don’t recall,” Lawson says. Case file Marshall Islands: “Slipstream”
On Feb. 22, 2010, Lawson and his wife, Nicole, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy with $545,235 in unsecured claims still owed to creditors. Lawson’s Provo home is up for sale and his Orem residence is being rented out. Lawson maintains he still lives in Utah but declines to say where.
Strangely, for the number of outstanding debts Lawson owes to debt-collection companies and various hospital billing agencies, his bankruptcy filings mention little of his company.
After launching a now-defunct hovercraft company, Slipstream International, Lawson’s e-mails cheerily closed with the quotation, “Keeping the Tropics Tropical!” which is a reference to his company’s plan to provide transportation service in the Marshall Islands. It was for this venture that Lawson sought Shurtleff’s help in seeking capital financing. In a letter dated Feb. 12, 2009, Shurtleff wrote a recommendation for Lawson, praising Lawson’s business acumen: “Over the last 11 years, Mr. Lawson has become a close personal friend,” reads Shurtleff’s letter, “and has demonstrated professional capabilities in business organization, management and administration.”
While this letter indicates Lawson’s hovercraft company was seeking financing, Lawson says he never spoke to investors about his company, insisting that his company operated on “private donations” from confidential donors interested in the humanitarian work Lawson hoped to do in the Marshall Islands.
“The Marshall Islands is in a state of emergency, people are dying because they can’t get off their island to get to a hospital because they got a simple infection,” Lawson says. “I wanted to see what I could do to help.”
When asked if he might have taken advantage of his time in the Marshall Islands to set up offshore bank accounts (since the Marshall Islands are a well-known tax haven), Lawson scoffs at the suggestion.
“Now, Dude, No.1—that’s none of your business, and No. 2, if you would go down to the Marshall Islands and ask about me, they would arrest you,” Lawson says referring to laws in the Marshall Islands that prevent people from asking about banking activities on the islands.
“Even if I did—which I didn’t, by the way—but if I had, you wouldn’t have known about it, because it’s confidential. There’s a law down there, that if you go poking around with that shit, they’ll arrest your ass.”
As with the transportation-challenged residents of the Marshall Islands, Lawson remains committed to helping people. As testament to his good work, he says it’s natural that people like Gadbaw and Kitts will be critical because that just comes with the territory.
“There’s a lot of people out there who don’t like me,” Lawson says. “I don’t give a flying monkey’s ass if they like me or not—this is America, they can go fuck themselves. But there are also people here who would trust me with their lives—with their children’s lives.”