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A St. George businessman and others accused of a massive Internet fraud could face a new wave of criminal charges as soon as May, a federal prosecutor said Monday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Ward told a U.S. magistrate a new indictment in the case of I Works and owner Jeremy Johnson will contain scores of additional charges.
"It'll be more like a 50-count indictment," Ward said in response to a question from Magistrate David Nuffer, who is presiding over the Johnson case in pre-trial proceedings. Nuffer's question came in a hearing to estimate when the U.S. government would meet its requirement to turn over evidence to Johnson's court-appointed defense attorney, Nathan Crane.
Ward and others have previously said Johnson was facing a superseding indictment. The U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah recently filed documents in a civil case saying that Johnson and other unnamed defendants were the subject of an ongoing investigation.
A new indictment was expected charging Johnson, I Works Inc. and others "with a widespread pattern of federal criminal violations," the document said.
Johnson was hastily charged in June with a single count of wire fraud for his operation of I Works, which the government contends sold largely bogus products over the Internet for a minimal fee then charged consumers' credit or debit cards monthly fees without their permission.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued Johnson and others in December 2010 for allegedly defrauding consumers.
Filings in the civil lawsuit say consumers who gave credit or debit card numbers for what was supposed to be a minimal handling charge, usually $1.99, also were often charged monthly fees of $59.95 and sometimes a one-time fee of $189.
From 2006 to 2010, Johnson's companies took in more than $350 million from sales and returned about $75 million to customers who complained, keeping more than $275 million, according to allegations in court records. Johnson received more than $48 million in salary and other distributions since 2006, the FTC said.
Johnson has pleaded not guilty in the criminal case and denies the allegations in the FTC lawsuit. He is handling his own defense in the FTC case because he says he has no money for an attorney after a federal judge in Las Vegas froze all his assets and appointed a receiver to control them.
Nuffer set another hearing in the case for March. A trial has yet to be scheduled.