Tempers flared in a federal courtroom Thursday over allegations that St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson — perhaps through his wife — was continuing to disparage prosecutors on websites despite a gag order.
The flare-up came toward the end of what was a largely routine hearing on several matters in the case in which Johnson and four associates face 86 charges related to bank fraud that allegedly occurred during operation of Johnson’s I Works company.
It started when Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Burt complained to U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Warner that Johnson had not taken down websites that allege misconduct on the part of federal prosecutors or that offer evidence or comments on the case.
Burt said Johnson or others acting on his behalf, including Johnson’s wife, Sharla, were continuing to post information in defiance of a court order.
That prompted an eruption from Johnson’s attorney, Ron Yengich, who accused prosecutors of withholding evidence and argued that Johnson’s family members were not covered by the court order.
That, in turn, brought a heated response from the judge, who said he would not tolerate violations of his gag order, including by Johnson’s wife.
“If I find the order is being violated,” Warner said, “I do not think Mr. Johnson is going to find the sanctions to his liking.”
The judge declined to rule on major issues under discussion at the hearing, opting to wait for a ruling in a civil lawsuit brought by the Federal Trade Commission against Johnson and others in Nevada. Prosecutors in Utah are asking a federal judge in Las Vegas to suspend evidence gathering in the Nevada case until the criminal matter in Salt Lake City concludes.
Prosecutors allege Johnson is using the civil case, where he is acting as his own attorney, to influence or intimidate potential witnesses in the criminal proceedings.
Warner set the next hearing for Sept. 5, but declined prosecutors’ request that a trial date be set. Johnson and the others have pleaded not guilty.