SALT LAKE CITY — Indicted St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson could end up back in jail if his wife continues to run a website critical of the federal government, particularly its handling of criminal and civil cases against her husband.
U.S. District Magistrate Judge Paul M. Warner said utahfedwatch.com, which federal prosecutors say Sharla Johnson operates, violates a gag order he issued May 9. Warner said if she persists, Jeremy Johnson would "find the sanctions not to his liking."
"I'm not going to have Mr. Johnson's wife do what he can't do," the judge said. "If he wants to divorce his wife and have no legal relationship, that's a different matter."
Assistant U.S. attorney Jason Burt raised the issue Thursday during a hearing for Johnson and four associates accused of fraud in an 86-count indictment connected to the once lucrative Internet marketing company, iWorks.
Burt also told the judge that YouTube videos and other social media sites Jeremy Johnson created — including evilftc.com and the "Unofficial Fan Page United States Attorney for the District of Utah" on Facebook — were not taken down.
The websites lambaste the federal government in general and federal attorneys involved in Johnson’s case specifically. It accuses Federal Trade Commission lawyers and federal prosecutors of falsifying evidence and threatening witnesses. One site poses the question: “How can I stop government abuse?”
Attorneys for Johnson said he has removed himself as administrator of those sites.
But Burt said the gag order applies to the defendants and their "agents." Warner said he interprets that to include family members.
That drew a heated response from Johnson's court-appointed lawyer, Ron Yengich. He told Warner that he should amend the order to specifically include family members. He said Johnson and his wife are "independent individuals."
"Mr. Johnson has done virtually nothing" since the order was imposed, Yengich said.
Warner conceded he has no authority over Sharla Johnson. But "I will deal with Mr. Johnson, and you and he aren't going to like it."
The judge didn't explicitly say he would throw Jeremy Johnson in jail, but that is one of his options and he told Yengich "you can read between the lines."
Johnson spent three months in jail after he was arrested for a mail fraud charge in June 2011. Family members and friends cobbled together a $2.8 million property bond to free him.
In March, federal prosecutors indicted Johnson, Scott Leavitt, Loyd Johnston, Bryce Payne and Ryan Riddle for bank fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. All five pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors allege iWorks lured Internet consumers into "trial" memberships for bogus government grants and moneymaking schemes and then repeatedly charged their credit cards fees for programs they didn't sign up for, totaling $300 million.
A Federal Trade Commission complaint filed in December 2010 alleging the same thing preceded the criminal charges.
Johnson ignited an ongoing political scandal in January when he accused Utah Attorney General John Swallow of helping arrange a $600,000 payment to enlist Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in an effort to derail the FTC investigation into iWorks. Swallow adamantly denies the allegation. Reid has disavowed any knowledge of Johnson's case.
The Department of Justice is investigating Johnson's claim.
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