SALT LAKE CITY — Businessman Jeremy Johnson, a key witness in the criminal cases against two former Utah attorneys general, rejected a plea deal Tuesday that federal prosecutors offered in a wide-ranging fraud case.
Defense attorneys and federal prosecutors have not released details about the plea deals proposed for Johnson and four co-defendants. But attorneys said during a federal court hearing Tuesday that the deals had been rejected.
Johnson, 39, and four business associates — Scott Leavitt, Bryce Payne, Ryan Riddle, Loyd Johnston — had until Tuesday to accept the deals.
The five defendants have all pleaded not guilty to 86 counts of fraud, money laundering and other charges. They are set for a monthlong trial starting Sept. 14.
Prosecutor Robert Lunnen with the U.S. Attorney's Office said in court Tuesday that he may decide by the end of July to drop money laundering charges against some of the defendants because they don't apply, but he didn't disclose which defendants. Lunnen said his office may drop other charges in the case to speed the trial along, but he did not offer further details.
"We want to make this quick and as painless for everyone as possible," Lunnen said.
Prosecutors have charged that Johnson's online company I Works bilked consumers out of millions with the offer of bogus services.
The St. George businessman is also a central figure in ongoing state criminal cases against former Utah attorneys general Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow, who are accused of accepting gifts from him such as vacations on Johnson's luxury houseboat and trips on his private jet. Johnson's public allegations against the pair touched off the scandal that led to their arrest last summer.
Shurtleff and Swallow, both Republicans, have denied wrongdoing.
State prosecutors in Shurtleff and Swallow's case complained publicly last week that their federal counterparts are interfering with that matter by using information that Johnson provided as a witness against the attorneys general to pursue an illegal campaign-contribution case against the businessman.
The Federal Election Commission sued Johnson on May 19, saying he made $170,000 in illegal campaign contributions to U.S. Sens. Harry Reid of Nevada and Mike Lee of Utah and to Shurtleff in 2009 and 2010. Johnson has said he's outraged about the FEC complaint because it stems from interviews with investigators who had guaranteed him immunity while cooperating on the cases against Shurtleff and Swallow.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Utah said their lawyers follow a strict ethical code but declined to comment further.
In addition to his federal fraud case, Johnson also faces a separate civil lawsuit in Las Vegas over his company's practices.
Johnson was arrested at a Phoenix airport in 2011, carrying more than $26,000 in cash and a one-way plane ticket to Costa Rica.
Before his arrest, Johnson donated generously to charities and used his personal helicopters to aid search-and-rescue efforts in southern Utah. He made international headlines in January 2010 when he bought a plane to fly doctors and other critical supplies to Haiti after a devastating earthquake.