In the countdown to this week's House Investigative Committee hearings on former Utah Attorney General John Swallow, one issue that may come up for examination by the House's imported attorneys is Swallow's relationship with Timothy and Jennifer Bell, who contributed to Swallow's campaign but later changed the record of their support from $15,000 to $1,000.
The Bells, who own a medical-device company called BellMed Resources, held an Aug. 17, 2012, fundraiser for Swallow for which, according to their Utah campaign disclosures, they contributed $15,000 in-kind by hosting the event, although what the money was spent on is unclear.
The fundraiser was smack in the middle of negotiations that were taking place between then-Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and his then-chief deputy Swallow with Countywide Bank, Bank of America Corporation, BAC Home Loans Servicing and ReconTrust Company in a lawsuit filed by the Bells over predatory practices by Countywide Financial, which Bank of America had subsequently acquired.
Back in January 2013, it was Shurtleff's involvement in the lawsuit that made headlines.
Bank of America had agreed to reduce the Bells' refinancing loan of around $3 million to $2 million, after a nationwide settlement between banks, the states and the feds. But a Dec. 13, 2012, motion in the Bells' case noted that the AG would not sign on. That position was abruptly reversed by AG Shurtleff in his last days in office, when he signed on to the settlement, leaving AG attorneys who had worked on the case furious.
By signing on to a settlement that benefited the Bells, one source close to the House investigation said Shurtleff had "hurt Utah's ability to pursue relief for others." The Salt Lake Tribune ran a detailed story by Tom Harvey on the loan and the surprise settlement in January 2013. The settlement also appeared to benefit Bank of America, a client of the Washington, D.C., law firm Shurtleff was about to join, only to see him leave the firm several months later as scandal engulfed both him and Swallow. You can read the Tribune article here.
Now, however, it is Swallow's relationship with the Bells that is coming under scrutiny.
Swallow, in response to a request for an interview, texted that the fundraiser had been set up by one of his campaign staffers. "I did not know Mr. Bell prior to the event. When I learned Mr. Bell was a plaintiff in a case that the state was involved in (on the same side, not on opposite sides), I discussed it with the Attorney General and he took final responsibility for the case, including negotiations. That might not have been necessary because our interests were aligned, but we wanted to screen me off the case once we became aware of that fact."
According to the Bells' attorney on the foreclosure lawsuit, Abraham Bates, Jennifer Bell first pointed out to Swallow -- as he was leaving the fundraiser, which took place at the Bells' multimillion dollar Holladay home -- that they were the same Bells in the lawsuit his office had intervened in.
An October 2012 filing by attorneys representing the banks in the Bells' lawsuit shows, however, that Swallow and Jerry Kilgore, attorney for Bank of America and a former attorney general of Virginia, "had follow-up telephone conference calls on August 27, 2012, September 5, 2012 and September 26, 2012," all after Swallow learned that the extent of his relationship with the Bells' went beyond fundraising.
A point that may be of interest to investigators is why the Bells amended their campaign disclosure. Swallow texted that, "As I understand it, the contribution was an 'in kind' contribution and was supposed to be the cost of the event." He continued, "A mistake was made in the report which attributed an enormous sum to the cost of the fundraiser," that sum being $15,000. The fundraiser was held at the Bell residence, he noted, and the "only expense was refreshments and a string quartet."
A member of Swallow's campaign team suggested to the Bells in January 2013 that they change the disclosure listing from $15,000 to $1,000.
"When we pointed out those facts, they adjusted the in-kind contribution to a number which I assume is in line with the cost of the event," Swallow texted. "Again, my staff handled those things and probably should have caught the error prior to it being filed."
Bates confirmed that investigators for the House committee had met with the Bells recently to talk about the Attorney General's Office.