SALT LAKE CITY — After a taped conversation between St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson and Utah Attorney General John Swallow surfaced publicly, the U.S. Attorney General for Utah is asking a federal judge to issue a gag order on Johnson.
The motion for a gag order was filed to halt Johnson's "ongoing media campaign against the United States Attorney's Office," according to court documents. The documents also dive into different paths Johnson has used to "spread his message, including traditional media, websites and social media."
The conversation that recently came to light was secretly recorded by Johnson on April 30, 2012, at the Krispy Kreme doughnut shop in Orem. The recording outlines an alleged relationship between Johnson, Swallow and the late Richard Rawle, a payday loan business owner who had ties to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
In the recording, Johnson insisted he paid thousands of dollars to Swallow as a payoff to get criminal charges dismissed while Swallow reiterated the money was for lobbying. But Johnson points to this tape as evidence that Swallow was part of the deal.
"At the end of the day I felt the FTC was screwing you over," Swallow said in the recording. "I wanted to help you with that. I knew I couldn't do it myself and I lined you up with Richard, who I thought could help you."
Though it was Johnson who recorded the conversation, he says he now regrets it's been made public. Meanwhile, Swallow is glad the conversation is in the open.
"The release of this recording confirms everything I've said about this from the beginning," Swallow told the Deseret News. "I did not do anything illegal and encourage Mr. Johnson to fully cooperate with the ongoing investigation."
Johnson is accused of arranging a $600,000 bribe to Reid to get the FTC to ease off the investigation surrounding his company, iWorks. In 2011, the FTC came down on iWorks for allegedly luring consumers into fraudulent money-making schemes that netted $275 million.
"(My attorney) says, ‘You've got an issue here where it looks like you're trying to bribe a United States Senator to try to get rid of charges,'" Johnson said in the recording. "He says, ‘So for you, Jeremy, what you need to be thinking about is getting immunity to that.'"
While Johnson said he believed the money would be used to buy Reid's influence to end the FTC investigation of iWorks, Swallow insisted the money would be used by Rawle to hire lobbyists to help Johnson's case. Either way, it was Swallow who helped Johnson find Rawle.
"It's not a crime for you to tell us getting this money might help our situation," Johnson said in the recording. "So my thought is, ‘Yeah, it's true John hooked us up with Richard, and we thought it was going to solve our FTC issues.'"
The investigation is ongoing, but Reid's office has responded to the bribery accusations in a statement by spokeswoman Kristen Orthman.
"The allegations of bribery by Mr. Johnson, a man with a background of fraud, deception and corruption, are absurd and utterly false. Bribery is a crime for which Sen. Reid has personally put people behind bars," she said. "Sen. Reid will not have his integrity questioned by a man of Mr. Johnson's low record and character, and his outrageous allegations will not go unanswered. Clearly, a desperate man is making things up."