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SALT LAKE CITY — Federal prosecutors are pushing for a trial date in their case against St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson, but the judge isn't ready to set one.
"Really, this case isn't as complicated as we're making it," assistant U.S. attorney Robert Lunnen told U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Warner at a hearing Tuesday.
Warner said the government is making it difficult because of the massive amount of data it has collected as part of a fraud indictment against Johnson and four of his former colleagues. A computer expert is compiling the information into a searchable database for the defense lawyers.
"You say it's a simple case, but you've given them millions of documents to look at. It sounds like you want it both ways," Warner told prosecutors.
Lunnen argued the alleged crimes took place five years ago and witnesses' memories fade with time, which could prejudice the prosecution, the defense and the public. A jury also might wonder why it took so long to bring the case to trial, he said.
The judge, too, said he wants to go to trial as soon as possible but declined to set a date.
"I think we're getting a lot closer, but I don't think we're there yet," Warner said.
Johnson was first charged in June 2011 with one count of mail fraud in connection with his multimillion-dollar Internet marketing enterprise, iWorks. After a proposed plea agreement fell apart, prosecutors hit him and four associates with an 86-count indictment for conspiracy, bank fraud, wire fraud and money laundering in March 2013.
Prosecutors allege iWorks used numerous websites to tout bogus government grants that were available to stop foreclosures and to pay down debt and for personal expenses such as groceries, home repairs and utilities. The sites claimed the grants could be accessed through a CD offered for a $2.29 shipping fee.
Many customers who ordered the CDs found them not to be what was represented and that their credit cards were charged for other products they did not know about or intend to buy, according to the indictment.
The Federal Trade Commission shut down iWorks in 2011 and seized all of Johnson's assets, including helicopters and airplanes, luxury cars, cash and gold.