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New Johnson allegation: Prosecutor tried to protect Swallow

Published May 4, 2013 5:08 pm

Courts • Utahn alleges prosecutor agreed to immunity for Swallow.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Indicted St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson unleashed another barrage of allegations this week against U.S. officials, including a new salvo accusing a federal prosecutor of trying to shield Utah Attorney General John Swallow from possible criminal charges even as federal officers were investigating the embattled lawman.

Johnson makes that assertion and others in a brief he filed Thursday in a Nevada federal court, where a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit accuses him and his I Works company of defrauding U.S. consumers out of millions of dollars.

Johnson also faces 86 criminal counts in a related case in Utah's federal court.

Prosecutors in the criminal case are asking the Nevada court to halt most proceedings there until the Utah matter wraps up. They worry Johnson might use interviews of witnesses in the Nevada case to influence the outcome of criminal charges in Utah.

But Johnson and three other I Works officials named in the Nevada suit told the Las Vegas court this week that their "due process" rights to defend themselves in the civil case will be harmed if the proceedings are slowed.

In addition, the four defendants, acting as their own attorneys, argue such a stay would cover up a government "conspiracy of misconduct."

As part of that claim, Johnson repeats previous assertions that Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Ward threatened to indict his family and friends if the St. George entrepreneur did not admit to two charges in a plea deal.

But Johnson also now alleges that during their negotiations last year — before Swallow became attorney general — Ward had agreed to provide immunity to two lists of people, including family members, business associates, friends and Swallow.

Earlier this year, Johnson said that, in 2010, Swallow, then Utah's chief deputy attorney general, brokered a meeting with the late Utah payday loan entrepreneur Richard Rawle as part of an effort to pay Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to stifle the FTC probe of I Works.

Reid's office and Rawle's company have denied knowledge of such a plan. Swallow insists he was merely helping Johnson find lobbyists.

In this week's court filing, Johnson said Assistant U.S. Attorney Carlos Esqueda, the local section chief for national security who also oversees public-corruption cases, was trying last June to get Johnson to offer information on Swallow.

Johnson said he refused and demanded a trial on the single charge he then faced. In subsequent negotiations, Johnson claims, Ward agreed not to indict people on two lists if the defendant would go along with a plea deal that would land him an 11-year prison sentence.

Included on one of the lists was Swallow, who Johnson asserts was a friend of Ward and the candidate the prosecutor had endorsed to be Utah's top cop.

Johnson alleges it was clear at a hearing in January — when the plea deal fell apart — that Ward had not informed his boss, criminal division chief Phil Viti, that Swallow was on a list that Johnson wanted protected from prosecution. Johnson also maintains that Ward had agreed to that list.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah declined comment Friday on Johnson's allegations. It has until May 13 to respond to filings by Johnson and the others. U.S. Attorney David Barlow previously denied that threats were made ahead of any proposed plea deal.

In an Oct. 11, 2012, email, a copy of which was previously provided by Johnson, Ward told Nathan Crane, the defendant's attorney at the time, that he could not agree to include any list of protected people as part of the official plea agreement.

Instead, Ward pointed to language that said the government considered the I Works investigation closed based on evidence it had at that point.

When Johnson produced the list with Swallow's name on it at the January hearing, Viti was surprised, Johnson said in the latest court filing, and the government refused to let it become part of the official record. The deal then fell apart, and Johnson and others were subsequently indicted on 86 new charges related to the operation of I Works.

No trial date has been set in the Utah case. The judge in the Nevada matter has granted a temporary halt to most proceedings and set a hearing for May 28.

tharvey@sltrib.com

Twitter: @TomHarveySltrib —

The Swallow case

Indicted St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson has alleged that Utah Attorney General John Swallow helped broker payoffs to enlist the aid of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in derailing a Federal Trade Commission investigation of Johnson's I Works business.

Swallow and Reid have denied the allegations. The U.S. Attorney's Office is investigating.