Jeremy Johnson, associates in court on federal fraud charges

Posted at 4:37 PM, Apr 10, 2013
and last updated 2013-04-10 18:37:51-04

SALT LAKE CITY - A southern Utah businessman at the center of a scandal involving the new Utah attorney general was in court Wednesday on federal fraud charges.

Prosecutors say Jeremy Johnson, through his web company I Works, fooled customers into giving him credit card information to pay shipping for a free compact disc, then I Works took those cards and started charging customers monthly.

Banks got so many demands for money back, they blacklisted I Works and Jeremy Johnson with a process called MATCH, or Member Alert to Control High Risk Merchants.

Prosecutors say that instead of fixing their business practices, the defendants used friends and family names to create dummy corporations, and continued fraudulent practices.

Johnson, I Works, and his associates Ryan Riddle, Scott Leavitt, Bryce Payne and Loyd Johnston now face dozens of charges, including conspiracy, bank fraud, wire fraud and money laundering.

Many of those charges are felonies and, if convicted, the men could be behind bars for years and face millions of dollars in fines.

Johnson gained attention in Utah after alleging that Utah Attorney General John Swallow helped broker a deal that attempted to bribe top lawmakers to make those fraud charges go away. Swallow denies any illegal activities.

In court on Wednesday, all five men pleaded not guilty to the 86 listed charges. They have been placed under a gag order and are unable to speak in detail about the case.

"We have a lot to say. I wish we could talk to you," Leavitt said after leaving court on Wednesday.

A status conference is set for June 13.