Johnson's items attract crowd
Samantha Clemens / The Spectrum
Jeremy Johnson auction

People attend an auction at Statewide Auction Company on Saturday.

HURRICANE - Eager buyers snapped up nearly 250 lots of merchandise Saturday from the companies owned or operated by St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson, who has been beset by legal woes since federal authorities began investigating the marketing practices of his St. George-based company iWorks.

While a number of buyers waited for big-ticket items - property such as classic automobiles, a snow plane and a dune buggy owned by the Internet business - there was no shortage of people ready to bid for boxes containing artificial plants, computer monitors, office calculators, desks, miscellaneous software and other items.

Auctioneer Tom Erkelens of Statewide Auction Company asked if he could even sell three DirecTV boxes that came from the company.

"Is DirecTV going to be wanting these back? We're not guaranteeing any ownership. ... You're probably going to get a hassle, so don't come crying to me," he joked before letting the boxes go for a final bid of $25.

April Gates of Springdale said she and her son J.D. were enjoying a day together at the auction after J.D. learned there would be computer items for sale.

"We spent our money already," Gates said as she watched office chairs go on sale. "We got here too late for the computers so we got a monitor set and keyboards."

Gates said she had also fallen victim to the enthusiasm generated by the auction.

"We also got UPS backup (power) boards - we bought six of them," she said of the power outage protection device for electronics. "I didn't know what they were. ... I had my son hurry and Google it. These are for sale now if anyone wants them cheap."

Many of the people in the standing-room-only crowd conferred by cell phone with unseen persons about the value of the items up for bid.

"There are a dozen to two dozen people here I know and the vast majority are here for office supplies," St. George resident Chris Hickey said as he checked out a 1968 Oldsmobile 442.

Hickey said he was at the auction to represent some potential buyers interested in the classic cars.

"I've got authorization from a couple of people to buy up to a certain amount," Hickey said. "It's like I get paid to play."

Hickey said he is not acquainted with Johnson but knows a number of people who are.

"The things he did for our community are very positive," Hickey said. "The one theme that always emerges (in conversation) is, 'How are they selling his stuff and he hasn't even been convicted?'"

Erkelens said there was a foreclosure on the business's building and it was incurring debts. A receiver set up by the court gained authority from the court to liquidate the business's assets.

"Their job is to manage the assets. ... They make money instead of incurring debts," he said. "The cars were at the airport and they had to be moved. ... As much space as that stuff takes up, it gets kind of expensive."

Erkelens said it was too early to declare a final total on the amount the auction brought in, but there were more than the normal number of people in attendance and everything sold.

The automobiles, dune buggy and snow plane bids totaled $116,300, with a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air fetching the highest bid of all the lots - $48,000.

Erkelens wasn't above cracking a few jokes. When a paper shredder came up for bid, he told buyers that "tax season is coming up. This is good for all those documents you don't want to keep around," before adding, "Of course, these things are probably worn out by now."

Johnson and iWorks are the subject of an indictment in Salt Lake City's federal court that charges him with fraud for allegedly using the U.S. mail system as part of an operation that allegedly deceived customers and charged their credit cards without their authorization.

The auction, however, is a result of a lawsuit in Las Vegas's federal court also related to the companies' alleged financial frauds. Johnson was released from jail on a bail bond totaling $2.8 million earlier this month and is awaiting trial.

"There's a curiosity factor," Gates said of her interest in watching the auction even after she was done buying. "I said to my son, 'He (Johnson) got to live the dream. If you had all the money in the world, what would you buy?'"
Originally published September 24, 2011