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Crime & Courts

Utah businessman in mail fraud case going to trial after plea agreement falls apart

A plea agreement for a Utah businessman accused of running a $350 million fraud scheme through his company fell apart Friday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.

Federal prosecutors initially charged 37-year-old Jeremy Johnson of St. George with one count of mail fraud related to his Internet-based business operations.

Johnson was set to enter a guilty plea Friday to two additional charges of bank fraud and money laundering as part of an agreement with the government.

But the agreement fell apart after Johnson and prosecutors disagreed over the terms and a list of people that Johnson wanted to ensure would not be prosecuted.

Johnson instead decided to maintain his not guilty plea and the case is set to go to trial.

After a court hearing Friday, Johnson said he wanted a chance to prove his innocence in court.

If convicted, he could face decades in prison.

Prosecutors on Friday said they plan to file a new indictment in the case within a month, but would not comment on whether other people besides Johnson would be charged.

Prosecutors allege that Johnson's company, iWorks, sent software to consumers for a supposedly risk-free trial but billed them anyway. The company mailed consumers CDs that contained information about government grants for personal, business and education expenses, prosecutors have said.

The Federal Trade Commission has also filed a civil suit against Johnson and nine business associates in Las Vegas.

Johnson is a well-known Utah businessman and philanthropist who has donated generously to charities and to the political campaigns of former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. Johnson also has used his personal helicopters to aid search and rescue efforts in southern.

Johnson made international headlines in January 2010 when he purchased a plane to fly doctors and other critical supplies to Haiti following a devastating earthquake.

He was arrested at a Phoenix airport in 2011, carrying more than $26,000 in cash and a one-way plane ticket to Costa Rica.

He is currently free on a $2.8 million bond.

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