|Jeremy Johnson accused of hiding millions|
Court-appointed receiver alleges St. George businessman hid assets after probe started
ST. GEORGE - Indicted St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson is hiding more than $50 million via a network of shell companies in order to hide assets from federal authorities, according a court-appointed receiver tasked with tracking down the funds.
California-based Robb Evans & Associates, appointed by a U.S. District Court judge under a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission, alleges a complicated scheme in which dozens of companies were set up to conceal $51.4 million, generated mostly by processing electronic checks for online poker companies after Johnson was asked by the FTC to preserve his assets while it investigated.
Johnson contended Monday that he is not interested in the money because it isn't his. He said the receiver is only "panicking, trying to get whatever they can as fast as they can" because the FTC's freeze of his assets could be overturned soon, explaining that the testimony that resulted in the freeze in the first place was given under government intimidation and that the people who testified are changing their stories.
"Basically, anybody I gave money to in the last five years, they're trying to get it back," Johnson said, adding that the receiver is trying to get back tithing Johnson paid to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that the report regurgitates part of a list he has provided that shows every entity to which he transferred money in that time.
"This goes right along the lines with gold bars in the bottom of the lake and all that stuff," Johnson said, alluding to testimony last year from a former business partner that Johnson allegedly hid stashes of gold, silver and cash throughout Southern Utah. "It's all fantasy."
Robb Evans, the receiver, could not be reached for comment Monday.
The FTC sued Johnson and nine other defendants in 2010, alleging that Johnson was the ringleader behind a massive online scheme that scammed customers out of $275 million. The FTC lawsuit, filed in Las Vegas in 2010, claims Johnson and his companies lured customers into trial memberships for bogus services, then charged their credit and debit cards repeatedly.
He is also facing criminal charges in the alleged scam and spent three months in jail last year while prosecutors argued that he would be a flight risk.
The receiver was appointed to take over Johnson's assets while the case was prosecuted, but in subsequent reports to a Las Vegas court, Evans has described difficulty in tracking down the assets, which includes cash, gold and silver.
As of Jan. 31, the date of the last filed report, the receiver indicated it had identified 265 bank accounts and other records from 35 financial institutions and 25 other businesses, along with 115 "affiliated entities and shell companies," and another 65 entities involved in moving funds and concealing assets.
"A majority of these entities do not appear to have generated any business income and were used as conduits to re-route funds and to commingle and hide funds," the document says of dozens of entities the receiver charges were either under Johnson's control or were complicit in the concealment.
The report states most of the total - $46.5 million - was moved to three principal processing companies, Triple 7, Mastery Merchant and Powder Monkeys. Brothers Todd and Jason Vowell, owners or past owners of multiple companies in the St. George area, including the now-defunct RoadRunners baseball team, were identified in the report as the individuals primarily involved in helping to move the funds.
Neither could be reached for comment Monday.
The document also names Johnson's wife, Sharla Johnson, his parents, Kerry and Barbara Johnson, and John Hafen, Arvin Lee Black and Lloyd Melling as being used to hold some of the assets.
"There can be no commercially reasonable explanation for the number of entities and individuals through which the funds were routed and re-routed," the document states. "The only plausible explanation is that these funds are assets of Jeremy Johnson and some of the individuals were paid to shield those assets."
There were 45 entities formed after July 2009, the document states. In addition, the receiver charges that 39 entities were created after the FTC wrote a letter to Johnson requesting that he take steps to preserve his assets and the assets of his companies.
The receiver already sold off some of Johnson's assets, raising $160,000 at an auction in September, and filed last week to sell off more.
Originally published February 21, 2012
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