|Jeremy Johnson seeking release from jail|
ST. GEORGE — Attorneys for St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson, who is accused of running an online Internet scam that cost customers millions of dollars, are fighting to get their client out of jail as he awaits trial on mail fraud charges.
A hearing is scheduled for today in Salt Lake City as attorneys for Johnson and for the U.S. government argue whether the 33-year-old man should remain in custody, with the defense offering up a $1 million equity bond in exchange for release.
U.S. Magistrate Judge David Nuffer said in a hearing earlier this month that he might consider a release if Johnson's supporters could post the bond, but the properties pledged must not be related to Johnson's finances.
Friends and family have stepped up with five properties, said Nathan Crane, Johnson's attorney.
"He has a lot of support in the community, and people are willing to bet their homes with Jeremy," Crane said.
However, the prosecution alleges Johnson poses such a flight risk that any condition of release, including the proposed bond, would not be enough.
"The government opposes the defendant's bond proposal and requests that the Court permit the government to present additional evidence establishing that the defendant presents a risk of non-appearance that cannot reasonably be overcome by any condition or combination of conditions of release," according to court documents.
In its filing of opposition, prosecutors state that they have witnesses who can testify to Johnson posing a flight risk. They also indicate they have evidence that the bond proposal does not meet the court's requirements.
Johnson faces felony mail fraud charges with a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail and a $250,000 fine for allegedly selling CDs through the mail that made faulty promises that purchasers would be able to use federal grants for personal expenses.
The Federal Trade Commission has filed civil charges calling him the "mastermind" of a multi-million dollar online fraud scheme that it says "tricked consumers into providing their credit and debit card information and then repeatedly billed these customers for memberships in various websites they never agreed to join."
Johnson and his attorneys have denied the charges, arguing that his companies took great strides to meet the FTC's guidelines.
Johnson was arrested in Phoenix in June with $26,400 cash on hand and a one-way ticket to Costa Rica, prompting the accusations that he may be a flight risk.
Defense attorneys have argued that Johnson was heading to Costa Rica to try to start a tourism helicopter business and never intended to run.
The defense has fought vigorously against detention, filing 70 pages of letters from friends and family arguing Johnson is no flight risk. Last week, an affidavit was filed with testimony from Johnson's wife arguing on his behalf. The couple has two young children and immediate and extended family members in the area.
Johnson was active in a number of humanitarian efforts before the FTC action, flying search-and-rescue missions, donating generously to local charities and using his helicopters to help residents stranded during floods. He also led a rescue mission to Haiti after a massive earthquake hit the country last year.
Originally published July 28, 2011
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