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Ex-attorney behind bars for stealing Utah farms in 2000

Published June 28, 2012 3:18 pm

Fraud • State says Jamis Johnson violated the terms of his parole.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A disbarred lawyer who defrauded a Delta man and his son-in-law out of their home, dairy and land 12 years ago is in prison for failing to keep the terms of his probation.

Fourth District Judge James Brady earlier this month ordered Jamis Johnson, 60, to immediately begin serving 1-to-15 years in prison.

"The Attorney General's Office and the Department of Adult Probation and Parole took the long view and engaged in [an] effort to bring this financial criminal to justice," Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said in a statement released Thursday. "Johnson literally picked the pockets of unsophisticated and trusting victims. I appreciate the dedicated probation officers and prosecutors who ultimately obtained some measure of justice and fairness."

In March 2007, Johnson was convicted by a jury of one count of securities fraud for offering American-Dairy.com stock to the farmers in exchange for control over their farms.

Johnson and co-defendant Paul Schwenke exchanged the worthless stock for the farms and then used the properties as collateral for bank loans. Johnson and Schwenke personally used the money, and the farms ended up in foreclosure, prosecutors said.

While awaiting trial, Johnson filed a lawsuit against his co-defendant, enabling Johnson to put his victims in front of him for hours of questioning. Prosecutors said Johnson deposed the farmers, who were set to testify against him, as a ploy to intimidate them.

The farmers during their depositions met with Johnson alone, saying they had no money to hire an attorney. And when one of the men refused to answer more questions, Johnson unsuccessfully tried to get him punished for contempt of court.

Fourth District Judge Donald Eyre sentenced Schwenke up to 15 years, but the latter was given parole. Eyre suspended the prison term for Johnson, ordering him to serve six months in the Millard County Jail and six months home confinement.

Eyre said he did so, in part, because he was impressed with Johnson's church work and letters of support from friends and family.

Johnson was allowed parole if he would get a job, report regularly to a probation officer and not associate or work with felons. However, probation officers discovered Johnson was continuing to work and associate with Schwenke, prosecutors said.

Johnson also had been ordered to pay $120,000 restitution, which has grown to more than $143,000.

He was disbarred in Utah and New York.

Schwenke, who also served six months in the Millard County Jail and six months home confinement, was recently sent to prison for violating his parole. He appeared before the Board of Pardons in May, and the board decided not to consider him for release until May 2017.

In March 2011, a federal court jury found Johnson guilty of 27 charges related to a mortgage fraud scheme that used false loan documents to strip millions of dollars from lenders. He was found guilty of conspiracy, money laundering and wire and mail fraud.

Sentencing has been postponed, however, so Johnson or his attorney could prepare a motion for a new trial. However, two of Johnson's court-appointed attorneys have since withdrawn after there was a disagreement on how to proceed, Johnson said.

New attorneys were appointed but they have yet to file a motion, and no sentencing date has been set.

dawn@sltrib.com

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