Jeremy Johnson considers dropping lawyers
Jeremy Johnson

Jeremy Johnson

ST. GEORGE - St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson is considering dropping his lawyers and representing himself, apparently frustrated with his defense team after having sat in jail since early June.

Johnson delivered a letter Monday to U.S. Magistrate Judge David Nuffer in Salt Lake City during a hearing in his mail fraud case, explaining some of his concerns and even alluding to self-representation, said Nathan Crane, the public defender assigned to Johnson's case.

"Nobody likes to be in jail, especially when they don't think they did anything wrong," Crane said, adding that Johnson's case in unusual in that white collar criminals typically aren't held behind bars so long.

Another hearing is slated for Sept. 9, and in the interim Crane said Johnson and his lawyers plan to discuss the situation.

Johnson, who is accused of defrauding thousands of customers out of $350 million through his web-based businesses, has been in jail since June 11, when he was arrested in a Phoenix airport on mail fraud charges connected to his online businesses.

Since then he has had two custody hearings, with friends and family testifying on the 35-year-old's behalf and even offering up $1 million worth of property to cover bail. However, prosecutors have called Johnson a flight risk, pointing out that he is a pilot and has contacts overseas. When arrested, Johnson had $26,000 in cash and a one-way ticket to Costa Rica.

At a detention hearing last month, a former business partner testified that Johnson had stashed gold and cash all over Southern Utah, prompting Nuffer to reject bail.

Travis Marker, Johnson's lead attorney in a civil case involving the Federal Trade Commission, said it is rare for a white collar criminal to successfully defend himself, but Johnson has some unique traits that could make it feasible.

"The wonderful thing about Jeremy is he's a very creative individual," he said. "He's actually really brilliant."

That said, there is still a lot to go through before things reach that point, Marker said, indicating that self-representation was just one of several options moving forward.

Johnson, who lived as a millionaire for most of the last decade, had his assets frozen by the FTC earlier this year and had to request a public defender. In addition, being stuck in jail has made it difficult for Johnson to help develop his defense, Marker said.

"He feels like this has taken on a unique aspect toward him," Marker said, adding that Johnson feels he has been "dramatically mischaracterized."

Johnson faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail and a $250,000 fine on the mail fraud charges, which stem from CDs sold through his online companies that allegedly offered to show customers how to use grant money for personal expenses.

In December, the Federal Trade Commission hit Johnson and other defendants involved with his online businesses, alleging he was the force behind a complicated scheme that duped hundreds of thousands of customers.

Citing thousands of complaints and incidents where customers refuted charges to their credit and debit cards, the FTC claims Johnson's companies deceived consumers into enrolling for products or services and then charged their cards without authorization.

Defense attorneys have denied all charges and maintain that Johnson ran a legitimate business.
Originally published August 23, 2011