MISSOULA – Donald “Ski” Johnson, 49, of Silver Spring, Maryland, was sentenced yesterday to five years of probation, with six months spent under house arrest, for wire fraud. In July, a jury convicted Johnson following a two-day federal trial in Butte, Montana and determined that Johnson had defrauded Big Brothers Big Sisters of Gallatin County, Montana, by misrepresenting himself as a Grammy-nominated artist soliciting funds for a children’s cancer foundation. In reality, Johnson was never nominated for a Grammy and used money in the foundation’s account for his personal expenses. Chief U.S. District Court Judge Dana L. Christensen issued the sentence.
At trial, Assistant United States Attorney Chad C. Spraker presented evidence that in May 2012, Johnson contacted a large Montana resort using the alias Kevin Wright. The resort was partnering with Big Brother Big Sisters to put on a charity celebrity golf tournament. “Wright” claimed he was a Sony Records representative and an agent of Grammy-nominated saxophonist Ski Johnson. He also claimed that Johnson ran a charity known as the Jazz for Life Foundation, a children’s cancer charity. “Wright” stated that Johnson would donate two Grammy tickets to Big Brothers Big Sisters with one half of the proceeds going to Big Brothers Big Sisters and the other half going to Jazz for Life. Grammy tickets may not be transferred or resold, and Grammy tickets provide that tickets obtained in contravention of their terms will not be honored, and their holders shall be deemed trespassers. Big Brothers Big Sisters paid for Johnson and his associate’s travel expenses, lodging, food, and green fees. Big Brothers Big Sisters held the tournament in July 2012 and auctioned the tickets for a bid of $6,000. Big Brothers Big Sisters stopped the transaction after learning of Johnson’s true identity.
In making its sentencing recommendations, the United States noted that Johnson had perpetrated similar frauds previously between 2011 and 2014. In one instance he organized a black-tie charity gala and promised the attendance of numerous celebrities, none of whom had ever committed to attend. Johnson ultimately canceled the event, but not before the PayPal account associated with Jazz for Life had received nearly $14,000 in proceeds. Johnson also used the approach he employed with Big Brothers Big Sisters on many other occasions. The United States urged the court to consider the losses associated with these frauds in its sentencing determination and argued that they were perpetrated as part of a common scheme. The United States pointed out that of the $120,000 deposited in the Jazz for Life Account between July 2012 and December 2013, only $20 was actually contributed to a charity. The United States also argued that losses included tens of thousands dollars expended by various charities on Johnson and his associates for travel expenses and other perks as a result of Johnson’s false representations.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Chad C. Spraker prosecuted the case, which was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service.