When Money Talks, Mark Shurtleff Listens

How much does it cost to get Mark Shurtleff, Utah’s Attorney General, to lie for you? Apparently only $5,000. What a bargain!

Today Sam Antar has an enlightening piece on his blog, entitled “Overstock.com (NASDAQ: OSTK) CEO Patrick Byrne Pays Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff to Defame a Blogger.” It details a situation in which a $5,000 Overstock.com campaign contribution to Shurtleff was followed immediately by public lies by Shurtleff. And there’s plenty of evidence to support the claim that Shurtleff blatantly lied.

In October 2007, Antar did a presentation for the Attorney General’s office at their 14th Annual White Collar Crime Conference. This presentation was done at no cost to those putting on the conference. As with all of his presentations, Sam paid for his own travel expenses and accepted no reimbursement or other payment.

There was only one caveat to his presenting at the conference: Antar agreed not to mention Overstock.com during his presentation, unless he was specifically asked about the company by someone in the audience. (The presentation had nothing to do with Overstock anyway, so Sam had no problem with this.)

Why did the Attorney General’s office make such an unusual request? According to Chief Deputy Attorney General Kirk Torgensen, this request was made after Overstock’s incompetent CEO Patrick Bryne tried to get them to cancel Antar’s appearance. Obviously, they didn’t cancel him, but instead asked him to refrain from speaking about Overstock during his presentation. This apparently was a favor to Patrick Byrne, and it seems very unusual that a citizen would be able to dictate what can and cannot be presented at a conference like this.

One day prior to Antar’s presentation, Overstock.com made a $5,000 campaign contribution to Mark Shurtleff. (Click image below to see it full-size.)

Is a campagin contribution like this unusual? Maybe only to the extent that in 2006, Overstock.com made over $65,000 in contributions to politicians, and none of them was Mark Shurtleff. Suddenly Byrne and Shurtleff are feeling chummy?

Antar appeared at the Utah conference on October 31, and abided by the terms of his agreement with the Attorney General’s office. At no time, was Sam told that he could not mention this engagement on his blog.

The day after appearing in Salt Lake City, he wrote about his presentation and the enthusiastic response from the audience. He also wrote about his visit to the Salt Lake City office of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to discuss accounting matters at Overstock.com. His post never stated, or even implied, that the two were connected in any way. Any reader with an ounce of common sense would conclude that Sam’s visit to the SEC was probably facilitated by the fact that he was already in town, nothing more and nothing less.

Shortly after this “campaign contribution” by Overstock (Oct. 30) and Antar’s presentation (Oct. 31), a strange series of events occurred, suggesting to any rational observer that the monetary contribution to Shurtleff’s campaign was really nothing more than a bribe.

On November 8, 2007, Utah AG Mark Shurtleff deliberately defamed Sam Antar in an untrue letter to Overstock.com. In his letter, he claimed that he tried to respond to Antar’s earlier blog post about the Utah conference presentation, but that Antar wouldn’t publish the comments. (The truth is that no such comments were sent by Shurtleff until November 15, 2007, when he had already been caught in his lies.)

Shurtleff’s lies in the letter include:

Mr. Antar was invited to speak at our 14th Annual White Collar Crime Conference, and to express my concern and dismay at the way Mr. Antar used that invitation to “bookend,” and inappropriately attempt to legitimize, his attack on a publicly traded company headquartered in Utah

[snip]

I was warned that Mr. Antar might use this speaking engagement to suggest that my office or I personally, endorse or support his accusations against Overstock.com or some other public company. Based on that warning, officials in my office secured a promise from Mr. Antar that he would not use this invitation for that purpose. So much for the promises of a convicted felon!

On November 14, Overstock.com made this untrue letter public with a press release stating in part:

Shurtleff maintains that Antar used his blog to violate a commitment to avoid exploiting, for self-promotional purposes, an invitation to participate in a recent seminar on white collar crime organized by the Utah Attorney General’s office.

[snip]

Overstock.com Chairman and CEO Patrick Byrne has engaged in a very public battle against illegal stock market manipulation. Several bloggers and journalists, including Sam Antar, have responded with equally public attacks against Byrne.

This press release not only misrepresents what was printed on Sam’s blog (it was not self-promotional or exploitive), but it also misrepresents Sam’s interest in Overstock.com. Patrick Byrne would have you believe that Sam Antar is involved in some conspiracy to manipulate the stock market in general and the stock of Overstock specifically. In reality, Sam just happens to be one of the loudest critics of Overstock.com’s questionable accounting practices and violations of SEC reporting and disclosure rules.

Following these dishonest reports by both Mark Shurtleff and Patrick Byrne, Antar was in contact with the Utah AG’s office about the situation. Specifically, he spoke with Richard Hamp and John Kimble, the two Deputy Attorney Generals who arranged his presentation. They made it clear that Antar was never asked or told to not post about his presentation on his blog.

They also made it clear that Shurtleff didn’t talk to them prior to writing his letter to Overstock.com, so his statements about the agreement between Antar and the AG’s office were completely fabricated.

Why didn’t Shurtleff bother to find out what really was agreed to? Because he was too busy responding to Byrne’s bribe. Byrne gave him money, told him what to say, and he said it.

Hamp and Kimble apologized on behalf of the Attorney General’s office, but were not able to secure a retraction or apology from Mark Shurtleff. (Neither was I.) Sam makes a good point in his blog post: If Shurtleff had merely made a mistake, he would have corrected it and issued a retraction and apology. His failure to do so is further proof that his actions were motivated by Patrick Byrne’s money.

Of course, to date, Mark Shurtleff has not retracted any of his untrue statements about Sam and Sam’s actions. And now based upon the evidence of this “campaign contribution” made by Overstock.com and Patrick Byrne, it seems clear why.

If you, your company, or your organization needs a favor from Mark Shurtleff, it would appear that $5,000 is his price. Be prepared to pony up.

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