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Complex bribery case kicks off vs. ex-Utah attorneys general accused of accepting lavish gifts

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SALT LAKE CITY - Two former Utah attorneys general made their first appearance as criminal defendants Wednesday, vowing to beat a slew of bribery charges and other counts.

Between the two, Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow spent nearly 13 years running Utah's top law enforcement office.

Both wore suits and ties as they sat a few feet apart on a bench inside a Salt Lake City courtroom Wednesday. They then stood together in front of a judge for less than five minutes as the judge ran through a few formalities with their attorneys and scheduled another hearing on Aug. 18

Shurtleff and Swallow have not yet entered pleas but told about 30 swarming reporters Wednesday that they want to prove their innocence.

"Facts will show that I'm innocent of all the things they've said I've done, and that's all I have to say," Swallow said afterward.

Shurtleff dismissed the possibility of accepting a plea deal.

"There's no plea_what would I plead to? There's nothing to plead to," he said. "When I say these are frivolous, false charges, I absolutely mean it."

Two hours before his court appearance, Shurtleff posed for a selfie with his 17-year-old daughter, who was holding up a piece of paper that read "#justice." His daughter, Annie Shurtleff, tweeted the image along with the message "We are ready."

Legal experts say the case could take years to resolve as lawyers navigate a scandal involving nearly two dozen charges, hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence and some dubious witnesses.

Both men face numerous charges of bribery, obstruction of justice and other counts that prosecutors say stem in part from cozy relationships with businessmen who offered gold coins, luxury vacations and use of a private jet.

They each face a maximum of 30 years in prison.

Shurtleff, 56, arrived at the courthouse with his wife and daughter. He was on crutches and wore a medical boot on one foot as he recovered from a recent surgery.

Swallow, 51, was flanked by his attorneys and left quickly afterward.

Legal experts said that because allegations against the Republican politicians have been playing out on front pages and evening newscasts for about a year and a half, it could be difficult to find an impartial jury in Utah.

"If you missed the news on this one, you're either in another state or you're not somebody anybody would like to have as a juror," said Kent Morgan, a criminal defence attorney and former Salt Lake County prosecutor.

Shima Baradaran, a criminal law professor at the University of Utah, said the case could drag on but she doubts a judge will allow it to be delayed for years.

"I think the stakes are too high," Baradaran said. "The issues are so important to the public. Everyone's watching this case."

The allegations against the men marinated for a year and a half as new accusations and various federal, state and local investigations were launched.

The scandal came to a head July 15, when Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced the charges and arrests. Swallow and Shurtleff left jail without posting bail hours after being booked.

Swallow, Shurtleff's hand-picked successor, resigned in late 2013 after spending almost a year as attorney general, fending off mounting accusations and investigations into his conduct.

Prosecutors said the men used a luxury jet, houseboat and homes belonging to one businessman in trouble with regulators and took luxury California vacations paid for by another.

Gill said both men accepted at least $50,000 in cash or campaign contributions from people facing or expecting to face scrutiny by the attorney general's office. Swallow also accepted a dozen gold coins from a former employer as a gift and then sold them back to the employer for more than they were worth, investigators said.

Both are accused of covering up their activities.

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Associated Press writer Annie Knox in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

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Follow Michelle L. Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice

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