Courts • Indicted Utah businessman's gag order bars discussing case in media.
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Jeremy Johnson certainly has caused a stir this year: headline-grabbing allegations about Utah Attorney General John Swallow and a vigorous media campaign against federal regulators and prosecutors.
Now he's been told to zip it.
A federal judge has signed a gag order to prevent the St. George businessman and others involved in his criminal case from making statements about it to the news media or on social media.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Warner signed the order at the request of prosecutors, who say Johnson was using interviews with news reporters and comments on the Internet to try to influence the outcome of the case, which now involves 86 criminal charges. Johnson has set up websites and Facebook pages to allege that he is being wrongly sued and prosecuted and that federal officials have engaged in improper activities.
In January, when prosecutors initially sought the gag order, Johnson fired back at the effort to muzzle him.
"I find it ironic that the government, with their endless resources and teams of attorneys, are afraid of what I might say to the media or post on the Internet," Johnson said then in an statement. "... In an act of desperation they want to deprive me now of my First Amendment right to free speech."
The Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, citing free speech and other constitutional concerns, had filed a brief arguing the government had not provided evidence that a gag order was needed.
In time, Johnson's defense attorneys agreed to such an order. The sides, however, could not reach a final deal with prosecutors about the wording.
Under Warner's May 9 edict, Johnson, attorneys in the case and a handful of employees in the businessman's I Works company are prohibited from spreading statements or information that could influence jurors at a trial.
The order follows the guidelines of a federal rule in criminal cases that permits restricting statements and information outside the courtroom in highly publicized proceedings.
Johnson and four other I Works employees were indicted in March on charges relating to their operation of I Works. The counts center on allegations the five committed bank fraud by creating shell companies and using them to open merchant accounts at banks in order to process consumer credit and debit cards.
Johnson has alleged that Swallow helped broker payoffs to enlist the aid of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in derailing a Federal Trade Commission investigation of I Works. Swallow and Reid have denied the allegations. The Justice Department is investigating.
Legislative panel to tackle A.G. post
O On Wednesday, the Utah Legislature's Government Operations Interim Committee will discuss a proposal to study whether the state's attorney general should be elected or appointed.
The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in Room 445 at the Capitol.