Tim Lawson, Shurtleff confidant, key figure in corruption scandal, dies from serious infection
Tim Lawson, a onetime confidant of former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff who became the first person charged in the corruption scandal that rocked the attorney general’s office and the state’s political establishment, died Sunday.
He was 51.
Lawson was deeply involved in events that led to allegations of malfeasance against Shurtleff and his successor, former Utah Attorney General John Swallow, that left both former officeholders mired in criminal charges.
Lawson himself faced felony counts of tax evasion, witness tampering, obstruction of justice, engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity and Social Security fraud in 3rd District Court.
Lawson died Sunday at Utah Valley Hospital in Provo. Jason Lawson said his brother, who had developed a hole in his esophagus, had been admitted Thursday for treatment of an infection and pain. By Saturday, the infection had spread. He was placed on life support after his liver and kidneys failed, his brother said.
Tim Lawson was removed from life support Sunday at noon at the recommendation of doctors, with his wife, Nicole Lawson, and six of their seven children — a son is away serving a Mormon mission in Uruguay— at his side, Jason Lawson said.
Funeral services are being planned for next Saturday in Provo, he added.
Tim Lawson suffered from multiple illnesses, including multiple sclerosis and celiac disease, which brings a severe physical reaction to some grains. He launched a gluten-free bakery.
Lawson had appeared in Salt Lake City’s 3rd District Court a week ago. A trial had been set for April 2017. He had an oxygen tank and was accompanied by his service dog, a West Highland white terrier name Prince.
In December 2013, Lawson became the first person charged in connection with sweeping investigations of Shurtleff and Swallow. His multiple illnesses were exacerbated by the stress he had experienced dealing with the criminal allegations and the firestorm of media attention generated by the probes, Jason Lawson said.
“We all agreed that Tim had made some mistakes and Tim had made some bad choices and Tim needed to apologize and he needed to man up,” Jason Lawson. “But do we feel like he deserved to go to prison? No. We feel like he was picked on because he wasn’t wealthy and he was not a member of the big boys club in politics or religion.”
Shurtleff and Swallow were charged in 2014 and pleaded not guilty to myriad criminal offenses in separate cases.
Shurtleff’s case was dismissed last month at the request of the chief prosecutor, Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, who said federal agencies had failed to provide key evidence and that a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision had narrowed the scope of prosecutions for alleged public corruption. Rawlings also cited Shurtleff’s agreement to cooperate in other investigations the prosecutor has undertaken.
Swallow, who is being prosecuted by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, is scheduled to go to trial in February 2017.
Shurtleff and Swallow were likely potential witnesses in Lawson’s case, just as Lawson had been expected to testify in trials for both former attorneys general.
Prosecutors say Lawson, a Provo businessman who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for governor in 2000, attempted to threaten Utah business executives seeking Shurtleff’s ear or assistance in incidents dating back to 2008.
Court documents allege Lawson attempted to intimidate investors of Marc Sessions Jenson, a businessman who had been charged with fraud as part of a plan to develop an exclusive ski and golf resort near Beaver. In January 2015, a jury cleared Jenson of those counts.
Lawson also was accused of going after Utah businessman Darl McBride, who has stated that Lawson threatened to have him beaten up if he didn’t take down a website critical of businessman Mark Robbins. McBride said Robbins, a Jenson associate, owed him money.
According to charging documents, Lawson characterized himself to McBride as being like “Porter Rockwell” — the legendary enforcer of early Mormon leaders Joseph Smith and Brigham Young — and that he took care of things for Shurtleff.
Court documents painted a portrait of cozy connections among Lawson, Shurtleff and Swallow. All three visited Jenson’s ritzy Southern California villa together in 2009. Swallow and Lawson exchanged more than 680 text messages and phone calls between April 2009 and March 2013. More calls and texts continued until at least September.
From January to November 2009, Jenson paid Lawson $120,000, charging documents alleged, to “gain access to Shurtleff and to influence, on Jenson’s behalf, potential witnesses and/or victims in Jenson’s criminal cases and/or anticipated civil litigation.”
Lawson did not pay taxes on the income, according to the charges.
Investors who said they were scammed by Jenson received hostile text messages and emails from Lawson when they were trying to recoup their money, according to previously released records.
In 2010, Swallow, then a chief deputy attorney general to Shurtleff, got a warning from a colleague to steer clear of Lawson.” Lawson is the guy that is going to bring down the house of cards,” Swallow’s co-deputy, Kirk Torgensen, said in an email.
Salt Lake County prosecutors charged Lawson with communications fraud, theft and making false or inconsistent statements for allegedly lying to the Social Security Administration.
Court papers say that between April 2012 and September 2013, Lawson twice told administrative judges from the Social Security Office of Disability Adjudication and Review that he had been unemployed or worked fewer than five hours a week. The claims resulted in a January 2014 award of $86,810 to him and his family, court papers say.
Prosecutors contend that state workforce services records show that in 2009 and 2010, Lawson reported owning a share in a Marshall Islands-based hovercraft business and operated a gluten-free bakery in Provo.
Lawson was born in Fort Dix, N.J., attended high school in Illinois and colleges in Illinois, California and Utah.