Friday March 14,2014 : UTAH QUESTIONS ON INTERNET POKER POLITICAL DONATIONS
Rumours around Jeremy Johnson, SunFirst Bank and a top Nevada politician persist.
The SunFirst bank, once at the centre of online poker money laundering allegations in Utah, continues to pop up in US media stories, with the latest coverage detailing an investigation by Utah prosecutors and FBI agents into allegations of possible political corruption.
ABC News reported Thursday that two Utah District Attorneys say a corruption investigation looking at state politicians and online gambling interests has yielded evidence that could implicate Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, and Senator Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah. Both have ties to the online gambling world, prosecutors claim.
Apparently the district attorneys are already working with FBI agents on the investigation and want federal prosecutors from the Department of Justice to assume responsibility for the case…an invitation the Department has thus far declined to accept.
Campaign donations and other financial transactions are mentioned in the report.
Elements of the investigation date back to 2009, when agents for a major international poker company were accused of using the SunFirst bank in St. George, Utah to process hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal poker financial transactions with US players.
Notorious businessman Jeremy Johnson allegedly assisted in these multi-million dollar arrangements, and told ABC News at the time that there were political corruption undertones in the case.
He was allegedly involved in arranging on behalf of online gambling interests the distribution of tens of thousands of dollars to state and federal politicians, including Sen. Reid, for their election campaigns.
Johnson claimed that the money behind his actions was interested in persuading Sen. Reid to launch online poker legalization moves.
He was to make the right donations without disclosing where the money was really coming from and in 2010 those included disbursements to Senators Reid and Lee through "straw donors" who were reimbursed from poker accounts in SunFirst for money they had supposedly contributed.
Another Johnson allegation involves a widely reported 2010 fundraiser event at the Rio Casino in Las Vegas, where online poker industry officials hosted Reid, and where Reid allegedly gave an undertaking to get online poker federally legalised if he was re-elected.
It must be said that Johnson is a questionable informant; he still awaits trial on 86 internet fraud charges involving millions of dollars, and is the subject of a court order binding him to silence.
Spokesmen for both Reid and Lee have dismissed the Johnson allegations as false.
Davis County District Attorney Troy Rawlings told ABC News that the DoJ was the most appropriate agency to investigate the case, which has federal implications, and his contention is backed by Sam Gill, the district attorney for Salt Lake County. The two officials continue to pursue the matter at state level, with the assistance of the local FBI office.
The ABC reports that the two DAs took over the investigation in 2012, when it was focused on the then newly-elected Attorney General, John Swallow. Although Swallow denied any impropriety in his dealings with disgraced Utah businessman Jeremy Johnson, he subsequently resigned less than a year after being elected.
The Utah investigation has grown into a wider enquiry, with the perusal of over 100,000 bank records, emails and other documentary evidence, and interviews with over 200 possible witnesses. Investigators also secured a federal court order and accessed information obtained from a federal grand jury.
The DAs have praised the professionalism and efficiency of the FBI investigators assisting them, and said Thursday that information uncovered by state investigators had been shared with the FBI in return, particularly questions related to campaign donations to Reid and Lee.
DA Rawlings told ABC News: “We’re not ready to pronounce prosecutions of any federal officials. But I will tell you this. By virtue of somebody being a federal official– be it an elected or an appointed official, whatever it is, does not give them immunity from state crime.”
Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Sen. Reid, reacted to the statements of the district attorneys by describing them as “a publicity stunt.”
Spokesmen for both Reid and Lee said that neither Senator has been approached by investigators; they characterised the Utah investigation as “…nothing but a fever-brained witch hunt.”