SALT LAKE CITY -- A special counsel will investigate whether Attorney General John Swallow broke campaign finance laws by failing to disclose his interest in a consulting business caught up in recent bribery allegations, Utah elections officials announced Friday.
It was the latest setback for a politician who came under federal investigation shortly after taking office in January. Swallow is a target of complaints filed at the Utah State Bar Association, and legislators are openly discussing possible impeachment proceedings against him.
Many of the allegations center on Swallow's dealings with indicted or convicted businessmen, some prosecuted by his own department while he served as chief deputy or as chief campaign fundraiser for former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
The Utah lieutenant governor's office, which enforces election laws, said Friday it was acting on a complaint filed by the Alliance for a Better Utah.
Lt. Gov. Greg Bell's chief deputy, Mark Thomas, said the special counsel will determine whether Swallow should have disclosed an interest in his consulting business P-Solutions while running for office. The violation would be prosecuted in a state court, and if sustained a judge could remove him from office, he said.
Thomas said his office will look to hire a special counsel starting next week. He said his office had dismissed many of the complaints filed by the Alliance for a Better Utah, a political group, but found the disclosure question worthy of investigation.
A legislative leader troubled by the allegations dogging a fellow Republican said impeachment is one option lawmakers will discuss at the Utah Capitol next week.
"Clearly, the things that are alleged are very serious and show an extreme lack of judgment," House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, told The Salt Lake Tribune in a story published Friday. "I would have to say that all options are on the table. We are becoming more and more frustrated with what we see as a lack of action or movement on the part of the feds."
The latest allegations come from Marc Jenson, a convicted fraudster who is telling Utah news agencies he paid for meals, golf and massages for Swallow and then-Attorney General Mark Shurtleff at a California resort in 2009.
The Utah attorney general's office had charged Jenson with felony securities violations months earlier. Swallow was chief fundraiser for Swallow and only months away from being appointed his chief deputy.
Swallow and Shurtleff have denied any wrongdoing.
Swallow's spokesman, Paul Murphy, wasn't immediately available for comment Friday. Rod Snow, his criminal defense lawyer, has said Swallow transferred ownership of P-Solutions to a family trust, didn't have to report it, and that he can be removed from office only by impeachment, not by a court.
Shurtleff said he went to the Newport Beach villa at the invitation of family friend Tim Lawson to finish a book and recuperate from a motorcycle accident.
Jenson said he was paying Lawson to repair his relationship with Shurtleff, and accepted all the bills for the time Shurtleff and Swallow spent at the resort. Offering a different account to The Tribune, Lawson said he was hired by Jenson to keep investors happy until Jenson could pay court-ordered restitution.
The U.S. Justice Department is investigating allegations from another convicted fraudster, Jeremy Johnson, who claims Swallow, as chief deputy, was part of a bribery scheme that failed to derail an investigation of Johnson's Internet companies.
And earlier this week, a former director of the Utah Division of Consumer Protection filed a complaint against Swallow claiming he violated attorney-client standards in conversations with a business owner cited for breaking telemarketing laws. It was the second complaint lodged this year with the state bar against Swallow.