If not for this India-born Democratic district attorney, working for the largely Republican and Mormon Salt Lake County, the case that local press are calling Utah’s “biggest-ever political-corruption scandal” might never have fully come to light.
Sim Gill, the county’s DA, was the force behind the investigation that led to two former Utah attorneys general, Mark Shurtleff (R) and John Swallow (R), being arrested Tuesday and charged with two dozen felony counts, including bribery and obstruction of justice. He pressed on with the probe after federal prosecutors dropped it last year.
“We have filed what we think are appropriate and minimal charges,” Gill said while announcing the charges, per the Salt Like Tribune. “We could have filed more, but we chose at this time to just file what we did.”
“I’d be less than honest with you if I didn’t say to you I have been very disappointed with what the DOJ did or didn’t do,” said Gill, who was elected to the DA’s office in 2010 after a failed bid in 2006. “This case is not something we should be prosecuting as local prosecutors.”
The Justice Department decided in September not to prosecute Shurtleff or Swallow, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, effectively closing an investigation that first became public in January 2013. The department declined to comment at the time, but Swallow and Shurtleff claimed the federal prosecutors’ withdrawal as vindication.
“This DOJ investigation was conducted by experienced, seasoned prosecutors who, the only thing they do for the most part, is investigate public officials,” Rod Snow, Shurtleff’s attorney, said at the time. “That’s what they’ve been trained to do … I think it speaks loud and clear when they close a case.”
But even then, Gill had pledged to push forward, using local resources and receiving some assistance from FBI agents stationed locally. Swallow, who had succeeded Shurtleff as Utah attorney general in 2013, resigned just two months later amid the ongoing investigation.
The signs were there once state and federal law enforcement raided Shurtleff and Swallow’s homes in June. Then, following their arrests Tuesday, Gill’s office unveiled the charging documents that alleged an exorbitant lifestyle including all-expense-paid vacations to one of the poshest resorts in California and cross-country trips on a private jet.
The details spurred pointed comments from some officials as a result. The Justice Department declined to comment to the Tribune again on Tuesday.
“We took this very seriously even when the feds did not,” Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox (R) said, “and we are grateful we were able to work toward restoring that public trust.”
The accused, meanwhile, argued that the Justice Department’s decision cast doubt on Gill’s investigation, with Shurtleff referring to the probe as a politically motivated witch hunt” at a Tuesday news conference, according to the Tribune.
“I had hoped that Mr. Gill would do the right thing, like the U.S. Department of Justice did,” he said, “and not abuse his power and position of district attorney to bring charges he knows he cannot possibly prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Gill dismissed those allegations.
“Everyone’s just trying to get to the truth of what really happened here,” he told the Tribune.