|Jeremy Johnson coming home after posting bail|
ST. GEORGE — For the first time in three months, St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson is out from behind bars after friends and family posted his bail in a $2.8 million show of support.
Johnson has pleaded not guilty to a single mail fraud charge in connection to businesses that federal officials say were part of a multi-million-dollar internet scam. He has been held since his June 11 arrest, considered a flight risk because of his overseas holdings and abilities as a pilot.
"We feel like there have been quite a few injustices dealt to him during this ordeal, so we’re glad to see he’s out and can help mount a defense," said Zakery Johnson, Jeremy Johnson’s brother.
U.S. Magistrate David Nuffer had denied previous requests for release, concerned about Johnson’s properties overseas and his experience with flying helicopters. He denied a $1.2 million bail proposal after a former business partner testified that Jeremy Johnson had hidden caches of cash and gold throughout the area.
But his supporters have been clamoring for his release since Johnson’s arrest, writing dozens of letters on his behalf and voicing over and over again that they would stake their wealth and reputations on his willingness to stand for trial.
On Wednesday, they put their money where their mouths were, putting up 16 different properties, annuities and other holdings as bail – assets that would go to the federal government if Johnson breaks the stipulations of his release. "I think it just goes to show there are a lot of people who know Jeremy’s true character," Zakery Johnson said.
Travis Marker, the managing attorney of Jeremy Johnson’s defense teams, said the release is a huge relief to the family, and would help Johnson to contribute to the defense efforts.
"Its a wonderful release and we’re very excited about it," Marker said.
Johnson’s supporters have listed his numerous philanthropic efforts as testament to his character. Johnson flew search and rescue missions, including a much-publicized trip to Haiti last year after an earthquake ravaged the country. He donated to local charities, funded scholarships at Dixie State College, and helped area "lost boys," the children tossed out of nearby polygamous communities.
But federal officials counter that Johnson didn’t earn the money to do such good in the first place.
The FTC charges describe a nefarious online enterprise that ripped off customers and then bullied them by threatening to report complainers to a credit card blacklist. Customers were allegedly lured, though various websites, into supposedly free or risk-free products, then charged repeatedly for things they didn’t know about, or want.
About 500,000 customers contacted their credit card companies demanding "charge-backs," drawing the attention of investigators who eventually levied the charges at Johnson and his company, IWorks.
Credit card companies reimbursed about $75 million to victims, but more than $275 million is still outstanding.
Johnson was referred to as the "ringleader" behind the schemes, and charged with violating the Federal Trade and Electronic Fund Transfer Acts.
Throughout the case, Johnson’s defense team has argued that he ran legitimate businesses.
Johnson’s supporters say that regardless of the magnitude of the charges, he deserves a fair trial.
Bennett L. Brooks, Johnson's friend and a former Justice of the Peace in the Fredonia Justice Court, said he disagrees with the way the case has been handled so far, and doesn’t see why the first bond proposal wasn’t accepted.
"That tells me, as a judge, that they’re willing to stand by him," Brooks said. "I would release him and let him get his affairs in order and get ready for trial."
Bennett added that the media attention Johnson has received since his arrest has already affected the case, something he wouldn’t want to see as a judge.
"I think they’re just trying to make him out to be a bad guy," Brooks said. "I hope the community will not judge Jeremy as a criminal right now. He has the right to a fair trial."
Originally published September 15, 2011
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