- Associated Press - Friday, February 21, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah legislators that investigated former Attorney General John Swallow endorsed two proposals Friday that they say are needed to beef up laws on elections and evidence tampering.

The nine-member, bi-partisan group of House lawmakers unanimously recommended the bills, but the measures still need to pass through the legislative process.

A third proposal addressing the Legislature’s investigative powers is still in the drafting stage.

Swallow, a Republican, resigned late last year. His nearly 11 months in office were overshadowed by accusations of misconduct, including allegations that he offered to protect several businessmen in return for favors.

He repeatedly denied wrongdoing and has pledged to clear his name as a private citizen.

House lawmakers say they want to prevent a similar situation.

“I find it extremely egregious that we have to go to these lengths because of what has happened in this particular instance,” said Rep. Brad Dee, R-Ogden. The legislature was taking steps for the public good, Dee said, “to make sure that this never happens again in the state of Utah.”

One proposal states that someone can be charged with witness or evidence tampering if they interfere with a legislative investigation, audit or another civil process. It also adds evidence tampering and falsifying a government record as offenses under an existing law against any pattern of unlawful activity.

Violations under that law are a felony that carries a possible prison term of one to 15 years.

The other proposal spells out the business entities and conflicts of interest that candidates are required to disclose.

Rep. Jim Dunnigan, a Taylorsville Republican who chairs the investigative committee, said the panel will meet again in early March to discuss that bill and release its final report.

Committee members plan to study other issues, such as moonlighting rules for state employees, after the session ends.

The panel’s investigation, which cost almost $4 million, wound down when Swallow left office in December.

Investigators working for lawmakers said Swallow’s 2012 attorney general campaign obscured donations from the payday loan industry that were funneled through various groups.

They also said Swallow intentionally deleted electronic records and fabricated other documents to throw off any inquiry into his dealings with businessmen.

Swallow’s attorney, Rod Snow, denied those allegations and argued lawmakers were unfair and one-sided in their investigation.

Republican Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, whose office oversees elections, has presented lawmakers with findings from a separate investigation his office made into Swallow’s 2012 campaign disclosures.

Cox’s office said Swallow deliberately withheld information about business interests and tens of thousands of dollars in income from his campaign documents last year. He also tried to influence a probe into the matter by altering witness statements and apparently destroying documents, the office said.

Cox declined to pursue penalties because Swallow had already announced his resignation.

Swallow and Snow denied the allegations in the report.

In addition to the probes by the Utah House and the lieutenant governor’s office, two Utah county attorneys, with the assistance of the FBI, are in the middle of a criminal investigation of Swallow and others.

The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office and the Davis County Attorney’s Office have filed criminal charges against an associate of Swallow as part of that probe.

Swallow, who has not been charged with any crimes, was also the subject of two complaints at the Utah State Bar last year. Both were dismissed.

In September, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was closing a federal bribery probe without filing charges against Swallow.

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