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Watford City accountant found guilty of wire fraud, cleared on other charges

BISMARCK -- Jurors on Wednesday, Nov. 7,  found a Watford City accountant guilty of wire fraud but not guilty of three other charges.

The 12-person jury spent about 1½ days deliberating in the trial for Rene L. Johnson, accused of diverting investors’ funds without their knowledge for a high-risk loan.

The case in U.S. District Court in Bismarck was linked to James Henrikson, who was found guilty in a murder-for-hire plot for ordering two deaths.

Johnson, who did accounting and other financial services for Henrikson’s oilfield trucking businesses, provided a $400,000 loan to one of Henrikson’s associates with the promise she’d double her money in 90 days.

Johnson was accused of using funds invested in her business, RLJ Factoring, toward that loan without informing investors. Johnson did not receive $800,000 as promised in the deal, but she was later reimbursed the $400,000 after she threatened a lawsuit.

The investors received their money back, plus interest, and one continued to be Johnson’s client. Another of the investors, her business partner Gene Koch who died in 2015, wrote in a letter in 2014 that Henrikson was a “professional con man” who took advantage of trusting people.

Jurors found Johnson not guilty of mail fraud, making a false statement to law enforcement and making a false statement on a bank loan application.

Johnson’s attorney, Irvin Nodland, made a statement on his client’s behalf on Wednesday afternoon: “This is a long way from being over. There are some very significant issues that are yet to be worked through."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Delorme said the verdict puts an end to a lengthy investigation.

U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland ordered a pre-sentencing investigation and said he anticipates a sentencing hearing will be scheduled in about three months.

The trial began with jury selection on Oct. 29 and included about five days of testimony.