Jeremy Johnson, feds trade barbs in court
Las Vegas • Jeremy Johnson and government attorneys accused each other Monday of witness intimidation and bullying in separate cases in Nevada and Utah in which the St. George businessman stands accused of a massive fraud with his Internet marketing company.
The two sides traded barbs here before a federal judge over a motion by prosecutors who allege Johnson is using a civil lawsuit in Las Vegas to improperly gather evidence and intimidate witnesses in a criminal case against him in Salt Lake City. The motion illustrates how the complicated cases running simultaneously in two courts in two states have melded and how Johnson has created headaches with his active campaign against government attorneys.
Prosecutors from Salt Lake City have asked U.S. District Judge Miranda Du in Las Vegas to halt most proceedings in the civil lawsuit until the Utah criminal case concludes.
"The harassment, the intimidation has already happened," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeannette Swent told Du, who indicated she might rule on the motion as early as next week.
Swent named at least three people who she said had felt threatened by Johnson. One, a former employee of Johnson's I Works company, had given a deposition to the Federal Trade Commission that the agency used as evidence in the Nevada suit. Since then, the former employee, Devan Partridge, has provided Johnson with two affidavits indicating he felt pressured by government attorneys to sign their declaration, even though it contained some things he didn't believe were true.
Swent also said Johnson was using court filings in the Las Vegas case, where he is acting as his own attorney, to bypass a gag order in the Utah matter that forbids him from disclosing information on the criminal case over the Internet or to the media. "Mr. Johnson and other defendants appear to be filing documents in the Nevada case almost entirely focused on the Utah case."
Johnson countered that his filings in Nevada all came in response to issues raised by the government.
In one of his recent court documents, Johnson accuses prosecutors in Utah of making threats to get witnesses to testify the way they want. He told Du that it was government lawyers in both the civil and criminal cases who were trying to influence witnesses.
"We have presented sworn testimony [that] they are the ones doing it and not us."
In one filing, for instance, Johnson included seven declarations from friends, former I Works employees and his father-in-law stating that they felt threatened by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Ward, who is the chief prosecutor in the criminal case, and by Jamie Hipwell, a special agent of the Internal Revenue Service who is the lead investigator.
Du said she had not read that response because it was not filed properly. But the judge seemed to be resistant to grant prosecutors' motion to suspend almost all proceedings in the civil case. She asked the attorneys whether steps might be taken short of a stay that would ensure all evidence gathering was carried out property.
Swent said Johnson and others already had violated such orders.
Other defendants, who like Johnson are representing themselves because their assets have been seized and they can't pay for an attorney, warned of hardships in supporting their families if the case were stretched out.
Scott Leavitt, the former I Works controller, broke down talking about the difficulty of finding work, and Du asked her clerk to provide him tissues.
"I've tried to find work," he said. "The town of St. George is very small."
The two cases
Jeremy Johnson faces a civil lawsuit in Nevada and 86 criminal counts in Utah. The cases have drawn wide interest after the St. George businessman 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. Federal and state officials are investigating.