SALT LAKE CITY — Utah businessman Jeremy Johnson said Friday he was finished talking after a magistrate warned him against making any more public accusations about his internet fraud case.
Johnson scuttled a plea deal last month, then accused newly elected Attorney General John Swallow of being part of a high-level bribery scheme that Johnson says failed to derail a federal investigation into his business practices. Swallow denies the accusation.
Johnson has also accused federal prosecutors of misconduct, incompetence and threatening to put members of his family in jail. Citing Johnson’s statements on social media and in television interviews, Assistant U.S. Attorney Carlie Christensen asked Warner to muzzle the defendant.
Warner refused to impose an immediate gag order but made clear to Johnson that his statements could land him in jail pending trial.
“I’m not a judge to be trifled with,” said Warner, a former U.S. Attorney for Utah. “Please don’t test me.”
Johnson’s defense lawyers quit his case Friday and were replaced by a criminal defense attorney appointed by the magistrate. Prosecutors said they plan to bring a new indictment against Johnson that Warner said was almost certain to add to the charges against him.
Johnson’s allegations threatened newly elected Utah Attorney General John Swallow’s political career only a week after Swallow took office. He alleged that Swallow arranged a scheme to quash a federal investigation by bribing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, one of the most powerful politicians in the country. Reid denies having anything to do with Johnson.
Johnson’s businesses used the Internet to enroll millions of people in get-rich schemes. The Federal Trade Commission says he got people to authorize a one-time credit card transaction, then continued billing them monthly without their consent or knowledge. He denies FTC’s complaint, which led to criminal charges.
Last week, Johnson released a secret recording of a conversation he had with Swallow at a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop 40 miles south of Salt Lake City. During the hour-long conversation last April, Johnson is heard trying to implicate the then deputy attorney general in a bribery scheme. He asked Swallow repeatedly for help recovering $175,000 from another Utah businessman who allegedly was supposed to bribe Reid to derail the FTC investigation.
Swallow has said the recording confirms his role was limited to trying to connect Johnson with lobbyists who could influence the FTC.
Prosecutors say Johnson’s public campaign has intensified recently in numerous media interviews. U.S. Attorney David Barlow has confirmed his office is investigating Swallow, who requested it to clear his name.
Warner gave Johnson some “friendly advice” Friday to keep his mouth shut, even as the magistrate refused to immediately issue a gag order. He warned Johnson he wasn’t inclined to approve any more changes in his defense team.
Warner appointed Ron Yengich, a prominent Utah defense lawyer, to take over the case. Yengich warned his client and members of his family against trading any “texts, tweets, anything” about the case.