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Federal prosecutors seek to muzzle indicted businessman Jeremy Johnson

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 29 2013 7:04 p.m. MST

Jeremy Johnson speaks to reporters after a change of plea hearing at the Frank E. Moss United States Courthouse in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 11, 2013. Johnson is accused of bilking online customers out of hundreds of millions of dollars through his online business iWorks by putting through unauthorized charges for unwanted products.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Federal prosecutors have asked a judge to muzzle indicted St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson.

"(Johnson) is engaged in an ongoing media campaign against the United States Attorney's Office and, in particular, against lead prosecutor Brent Ward, all apparently in an effort to litigate his case publicly rather than in the courtroom," according to a motion filed in U.S. District Court.

A hearing is scheduled for Friday morning.

The threat of a gag order didn't faze Johnson.

"I find it ironic that they are so worried about what people will think of them because of something I might say," he said in an email Tuesday.

"The media has been an important tool for these government actors to keep public opinion on their side throughout this. Now it seems these people do not like their own medicine. In an act of desperation, they want to deprive me now of my (First Amendment) right to free speech."

Prosecutors say Johnson has used various media outlets to accuse the government of various misdeeds. It cites his evilFTC.com website, a Facebook page titled "Unofficial Fan Page United States Attorney for the District of Utah," and statements Johnson has made in newspapers.

"While (Johnson) has the right to his day in court, he is not entitled to litigate his case in the media (print, broadcast or social) by means of false accusation and innuendo," prosecutors argue.

Much of Johnson's vitriol has been aimed at Ward, a former U.S. attorney who Johnson claims threatened to prosecute his family and friends if he didn't plead guilty to fraud charges earlier this month.

A proposed plea deal fell apart when prosecutors balked at Johnson's insistence those people be named in the agreement. Johnson this month filed a report with Salt Lake City police accusing Ward of extortion.

U.S. Attorney for Utah David Barlow said earlier this month no threats were made against Johnson.

Johnson provided the Deseret News a copy of a letter he said was delivered to Barlow in which 13 of Johnson's friends and family members, including his wife and parents, accuse Ward of improper conduct.

"There are numerous people who are willing to testify that Brent Ward and others have threatened them with arrest or worse if they refuse to lie for the government," the letter states.

In addition to Johnson, the prosecution's motion seeks to prevent "extrajudicial" statements from his lawyer, affiliates and potential witnesses.

In one Facebook post that includes Ward's picture with a quote saying, "We don't intend to prosecute anyone related to iWorks," Johnson's father, Kerry Johnson, wrote, "Liar, liar, are your pants on fire?" according to the motion.

Johnson faces one count of mail fraud in connection with his one-time lucrative Internet marketing company. After the plea agreement stalled, prosecutors said they would file additional charges against Johnson. The judge set a Feb. 8 deadline.

The Federal Trade Commission charged Johnson with bilking online customers of nearly $300 million. It shut down iWorks and seized Johnson's assets.

Prosecutors contend Johnson's statements and publications are part of an effort to "besmirch" the integrity of the U.S. Attorney's Office and Ward in particular. Johnson is trying to sour the public on the prosecution of his case and pollute a potential jury pool.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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