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Man accused of fraud tried to protect Utah A.G. in plea deal


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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A federal plea agreement fell apart Friday for a well-known Utah philanthropist accused of running a $350 million scheme that billed hundreds of thousands of consumers for products they never ordered.

Johnson and prosecutors disagreed over the terms and a list of people that Johnson wanted to ensure would not be prosecuted. Johnson instead decided to maintain his not guilty plea and the case is set to go to trial.

On Johnson's list of people he didn't want prosecuted were reportedly family members, friends, iWorks employees, and one source tells the Deseret News, attorney general John Swallow.

Johnson's attorney refused to elaborate, as did the U.S. attorney. At this point, the connection between Johnson and attorney general Swallow is unclear.

Swallow's spokesman today said the attorney general did nothing illegal — that Johnson asked him for help with his case, and that Swallow referred him to an FTC lobbyist for advice.

Prosecutors allege that Jeremy Johnson's company, iWorks, sent software to consumers for a supposedly risk-free trial but billed them anyway. The company mailed consumers CDs that contained information about government grants for personal, business and education expenses, prosecutors have said.

Johnson, 37, was arrested at a Phoenix airport in 2011, carrying more than $26,000 in cash and a one-way plane ticket to Costa Rica.

Federal prosecutors initially charged him with one count of mail fraud related to his Internet-based business operations. He was set to enter a guilty plea Friday to two additional charges of bank fraud and money laundering as part of an agreement with the government.

After a court hearing in U.S. District Court Friday, Johnson said he wanted a chance to prove his innocence.

Deseret News:

Before his arrest, Johnson donated generously to charities and to the political campaigns of former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

He used his personal helicopters to aid search and rescue efforts in southern Utah and made international headlines in January 2010 when he purchased a plane to fly doctors and other critical supplies to Haiti following a devastating earthquake.

Prosecutors on Friday said they plan to file a new indictment in the case within a month, but wouldn't comment on whether other people besides Johnson would be charged.

If convicted, Johnson could face decades in prison. He is currently free on a $2.8 million bond.

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Associated Press
    Richard Piatt

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