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Morgan Johnson
Morgan Johnson

A Lee County woman accused of scamming friends with claims she needed loans to pay fees related to a nearly billion-dollar inheritance backed out of a plea agreement Monday.

Morgan Johnson, 25, of Buckingham, faces up to 30 years on felony grand theft and fraud charges. The state will set the case for trial in the next two months or so, said prosecutor Amanda Hutchison.

First, though, a new judge must be appointed because Lee County Judge Frank Porter recused himself Monday, Hutchison said. The wife of one person who loaned money to Johnson and Johnson’s grandparents, Mark and Pat Bateman, gave Porter piano lessons. At least a dozen people, mostly friends and acquaintances of the Batemans, said they loaned Johnson based on myriad requests, including fees to access her inheritance and to save her toddler son from foster care.

The total reported to law enforcement is more than $60,000.

Cape Coral resident Jerry Crone, a longtime friend of Mark Bateman, loaned the family nearly $3,000. Crone and his wife helped raise Johnson. He was one of three people in court who loaned the family money. Pleas are still being made for cash, said Crone, who had hoped a punishment would be doled out Monday.

“I just want it to stop,” Crone said. “I'm annoyed she's still on the streets,” Crone said.

Johnson and her grandparents have declined to speak to The News-Press.

Some of the people involved believe Pat Bateman, Johnson’s grandmother, should also be prosecuted. Pat and Mark Bateman largely raised Johnson. Mark Bateman is said to have Alzheimer’s disease, according to court records.

Chuck Lyons and his wife hadn’t spoken to the Batemans since they moved from Fort Myers to Tennessee in 2006. Last summer, Johnson called his wife and then handed the phone to Pat Bateman, he said. They gave the family about $900. In the weeks following, he estimated they received nearly 30 to 40 phone calls or texts from Pat Bateman, wanting more money and the couple’s address. One text included information claiming to be from someone at the state attorney’s office.

Lyons read about the case in The News-Press on Sunday and planned to call the prosecutor.

“The more people who say something, the more chance is that Morgan will get what she deserves and hopefully, Pat, too,” he said.

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