- Associated Press - Thursday, March 17, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Closing arguments began Thursday in the case of a Utah businessman who made headlines as a helicopter-flying philanthropist before he became a key figure in an influence-peddling scandal that ensnared two former attorneys general.

Prosecutors say Jeremy Johnson and his top managers lied to banks create shell companies because they were in danger of going out of business after being blacklisted by credit card companies

“This was a calculated, intentional and deceitful plan,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Burt. “These guys broke the bank.”

Johnson, 40, denies lying to anyone. Defending himself as his own lawyer, he has said he was open and transparent about trying to fix problems as they dealt with a growing number of people asking for refunds.

Closing arguments are expected to last two days.

Johnson and his bookkeeper Scott Leavitt are each facing 86 charges, including fraud, conspiracy and money laundering. Top manager Ryan Riddle is also facing 55 charges and is representing himself.

“No one broke the bank. To the contrary,” said attorney Marcus Mumford, who is representing Leavitt. “Not only did the bank not lose a cent, they made money.”

The trial began after a five-year buildup that included mountains of evidence, allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and a rejected plea deal. Johnson pushed to represent himself three times, saying the government was listening to conversations with his lawyers.

Before the charges were filed, Johnson donated generously to charities like a St. George home for boys who fled a polygamous group 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.

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.

Two years later, Johnson dropped a bombshell about the state’s top lawman, alleging that then-Attorney General John Swallow had arranged a deal to pay U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada to get rid of the investigation. Reid denies any part of the affair and has never been charged.

The accusation helped touch off a pay-to-play scandal that culminated in the arrest of Swallow and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff. Prosecutors say the top lawmen accepted illicit gifts from Johnson, like vacations on his luxury houseboat and trips on his private jet, as part of a wide-ranging scheme where they traded favors and gifts with businessmen in trouble with regulators during their combined 13 years in office.

Both have pleaded not guilty and deny wrongdoing, and those allegations aren’t a part of Johnson’s fraud trial.

In addition to his federal fraud case, Johnson also faces a separate civil lawsuit in Las Vegas over his company’s practices and Federal Elections Commission lawsuit over his political donations.

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This story has been corrected to show Riddle’s first name is Ryan, not Randy.

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