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Prosecutors say federal government interfering in case against former Utah attorneys general

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SALT LAKE CITY — Two state prosecutors said their federal counterparts are interfering in criminal cases against two former Utah attorneys general by pursuing an illegal campaign contribution case against a key witness.

Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings and Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill also suggested Wednesday that federal prosecutors should take over the cases against the attorneys general charged with accepting improper gifts, obstructing justice and other charges.

The U.S. Attorney's Office previously investigated Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow but in early 2013 cited a conflict-of-interest and forwarded the case to the Washington-based public integrity section of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The conflict of interest was not disclosed and the Department of Justice later closed its investigation without filing charges. FBI investigators stayed on the case to assist Rawlings and Gill with their separate state investigation.

Rawlings and Gill said the federal government is now jeopardizing their cases by pursuing the campaign finance allegations against St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson, a key witness.

"If the local U.S. attorney's office is now 'conflict-free' and can exercise prosecutorial discretion by dishonoring our immunity agreement, they are 'conflict-free' and can take back the case. I invite them to do so," Rawlings said.

Gill told The Salt Lake Tribune (http://bit.ly/1BPPLor) that the cases against Shurtleff and Swallow are extensive enough that they should have been federal cases from the start.

Melodie Rydalch, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Utah, told The Deseret News (http://bit.ly/1dj8cWw) that the office follows a strict ethical code and declined to comment further.

The Federal Election Commission sued Johnson on Friday, saying he made $170,000 in illegal campaign contributions to U.S. Sens. Harry Reid of Nevada and Mike Lee of Utah and to Shurtleff in 2009 and 2010.

Johnson has said he's outraged about the FEC complaint because it stems from interviews with investigators who had guaranteed him immunity while cooperating on the cases against Shurtleff and Swallow.

Johnson also faces Internet fraud charges after prosecutors alleged his company offered bogus grants online. He has pleaded not guilty.

Shurtleff and Swallow, both Republicans, have not yet entered pleas but have denied any wrongdoing. They were charged last summer by the state prosecutors.

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