Chesterton Tribune



Don Johnson trial canceled after lawyers withdraw

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The jury trial of former Duneland realtor Don Johnson, set to begin on Tuesday, Nov. 7, has been canceled.

Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford vacated the Nov. 7 trial date following the withdrawal from the case of Johnson’s two attorneys, Gary Germann and James Koch, according to court documents.

Johnson was originally charged on March 14, 2014, with seven counts of selling unregistered securities; seven of selling securities without himself being registered to do so; and three of securities fraud.

On March 27, 2014, two additional felony counts were filed against Johnson: one of forgery, the other of theft.

Prosecuting Attorney Brian Gensel told the Chesterton Tribune that Johnson has not yet obtained new representation and that Bradford has not yet re-scheduled the trial, although a status conference has been set for 9 a.m. Monday, Nov. 27.

The cancellation of the Nov. 7 trial date is only one of many delays in the adjudication of the case since it was brought nearly four years ago. Five months were consumed last year by Johnson’s motion to dismiss eight of the charges against him on the ground that the statute of limitations had expired. Johnson’s attorneys filed that motion in July 2016 and Bradford denied it in August. The defense responded by seeking Bradford’s approval to file an interlocutory appeal before the Indiana Court of Appeals. Bradford granted that motion in October. Two months later, however, in December, the appellate court denied Johnson’s appeal without comment.

But the case history is also full of postponements. On eight separate occasions--“By Request”--Bradford re-scheduled status conferences, sometimes by a matter of months. On four occasions he re-scheduled pre-trial conferences, also by request. And on seven occasions he ordered a continuance.

The Case

In addition to the 14 counts of alleged securities and broker-dealer registration violations, Johnson is charged with three counts of securities fraud, accusing him of employing a scheme to defraud, making an untrue statement of material fact, or otherwise engaging in deceitful business practices.

Johnson is accused as well of forging a dead woman’s signature on an insurance check and then stealing the check.

Among other things, the probable cause affidavit filed by the Chesterton Police Department alleges that one of Johnson’s clients was a woman who belonged to his church, to whom he promised a 30-percent return on a $60,000 investment--in a real estate project--from the woman’s National Steel retirement account. Five years after signing the promissory note, Johnson told the woman that a downturn in the economy had halted work on the project, yet the woman kept receiving statements from a trust company showing a balance of $59,000 or more and didn’t realize that she’d lost all of her money until she talked to her son about the situation, the affidavit states.

Revocation of Johnson’s Broker’s License

Johnson was for years a familiar face in the Duneland real estate market. Then, in December 2010, the Indiana Attorney General’s Office brought a 33-count administrative complaint against him alleging numerous improprieties. In June 2012, Johnson and the Indiana Real Estate Commission (IREC) reached a negotiated settlement under which the IREC suspended his broker’s license for three years and ordered him to pay $15,000 in consumer restitution.

But when Johnson failed to pay the first $5,000 installment of that restitution, the IREC revoked his license permanently.

The IREC had previously concluded the following about Johnson’s business practices:

* That he “engaged in material deception” by providing advice on bankruptcy filings without a license to practice law.

* That he had “become unfit to practice due to failure to keep abreast of current theory” as well as to “professional incompetence.”

* That Johnson failed to notify a client whose house he said he would purchase that the property was subsequently sold at a sheriff’s sale, but he continued to collect rental payments totaling $1,800 from the tenants of the property while at the same time failing to pay the mortgage on the property.

The Jury Trial

Whenever the case does eventually go to trial, an attorney from the Securities Division of the Indiana Secretary of State’s Office will be assisting the prosecution.



Posted 11/6/2017




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