ST. GEORGE — While a multimillionaire philanthropist sits in jail awaiting return to Utah to face criminal charges, a federal judge in the civil case against him declined to release some of his assets to cover legal fees and living expenses.
U.S. District Judge Roger L. Hunt in Las Vegas ruled that Jeremy Johnson "is not entitled to monies that would continue funding a fiscally irresponsible lifestyle." Johnson sought nearly $250,000 to pay attorneys and $27,000 a month to live on, including $2,600 a month for yard care for one of his houses.
Hunt last week found the request for living expense "unreasonable" for several reasons, one of which was that the house was "mortgaged through a suspicious and possibly fraudulent transaction."
The Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against Johnson last December, alleging his Internet companies scammed millions of people out of more than $289 million for products and services they didn't order. The judge subsequently froze the St. George man's assets and appointed a receiver to oversee them.
Last week, the U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah indicted Johnson on one felony count of mail fraud in connection with his businesses. Authorities arrested him in Phoenix on June 11 as he changed planes en route to Costa Rica, where he moved his family several months ago.
Federal marshals will return Johnson to Salt Lake City in the next several weeks, where he will be arraigned on the mail fraud charge.
Hunt in his ruling questioned whether Johnson has lived solely on his wife's now depleted $130,000 savings account as he has claimed, noting his hefty legal bills and travel for his family between Utah and Costa Rica.
"Although $130,000 is no small amount, the court doubts that Johnson was able to afford these expenses on his wife's savings alone," the judge wrote. Johnson, he said, appears to have access to other assets.
Johnson spent Memorial Day weekend with his family on a million-dollar houseboat at Lake Powell, court records show.
In the meantime, SunFirst Bank asked the court Wednesday to issue a foreclosure order on a $3.1 million St. George home owned in Johnson's wife's name.
Hunt also pointed out Johnson's request to release his assets contained inconsistencies and omissions, including that nearly $250,000 in legal bills were already paid.
"If the court were to unfreeze the requested fees to repay those retainers, it would essentially amount to refunding the defendants rather than preserving the funds for potential consumer injuries," the judge wrote.
The federal court case revealed Johnson has a gambling habit and that he lost more than $3 million at Las Vegas casinos and playing online poker.
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