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Extortion scandal takes down Johnsons

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Photo by Jim Davis. Former County Executive Jack B. Johnson, center, leaves U.S. District Court in Greenbelt after his sentencing Dec. 6.

Photo by Jim Davis. Former County Executive Jack B. Johnson, center, leaves U.S. District Court in Greenbelt after his sentencing Dec. 6.

Published on: Friday, December 16, 2011

By Ashley S. Westerman

U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte delved out prison sentences last week to former Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson, 62, and his wife, former County Councilwoman Leslie Johnson, 60, after finding them guilty of their individually alleged crimes in connection with the extortion scandal that, when finally unearthed last November, has rocked the county.

The six-year federal investigation into the Johnson administration resulted in the Nov. 12, 2010, arrest of the husband and wife at their Mitchellville home.

According to court documents, FBI and IRS agents found $79,000 in cash stashed in Leslie Johnson’s underwear and bra. It was also discovered that prior to leaving the house, she — at the instruction of her husband — destroyed a $100,000 check from physician and developer Mirza Baig, which was given to the county executive in exchange for help in securing funds for the developer’s projects.

The FBI investigation that ousted the Johnsons, exposed an ugly web of corruption that permeated through the levels of top county government officials, county police and into the local business community.

According to Jack Johnson’s guilty plea and supporting court documents, he along with Baig, Director of DHCD James Johnson (no relation), County Developer Patrick Ricker and other business persons in the community participated in the extortion conspiracy from 2003 to at least Nov. 10, 2010.

Bribes offered to Jack Johnson, James Johnson and other state and local government officials included money, trip expenses, airline tickets, mortgage payments and in-kind campaign contributions totaling $1.6 million, according to court documents.

In exchange for these bribes, Jack Johnson and the other officials agreed to see through favorable official actions. These included assisting in the acquisition of surplus property and land from the county for development by certain developers, providing conspirators with non-public county information, assisting with state and county legislation regarding liquor store hours and obtaining employment with the county. Court documents say that the value of benefits received by those paying bribes total more than $10 million.

Court documents also state that Jack Johnson intended to continue his scheme after he left office — through his wife’s new position as county councilwoman representing District 6. FBI recordings reveal Jack Johnson promising Baig to have his wife use her new position to “take care of things.”

In May, Jack pleaded guilty to receiving the bribes, as well as to extortion and witness and evidence tampering.

Leslie Johnson knew of her husband’s abuse of his official position, which also included extorting campaign donations and other benefits for her campaign, as well as his intentions to use her prospective new County Council position for personal gain, court documents state.

She pleaded guilty in June to her one count of conspiring to commit witness and evidence tampering. In July, she resigned from County Council.

On Dec. 6, Jack Johnson was sentenced to seven years in prison and three years of supervised release after he was found guilty of abusing the office of county executive in exchange for bribes as well as tempering with a witness and evidence. He will also pay a $100,000 fine and forfeit $78,000 and an antique Mercedes Benz.

“Jack Johnson could have been a role model for integrity, but he chose to be a poster child for greed,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. “The facts of this case read like a dime novel because the defendant acted as if corruption was the normal way of doing business. It was our responsibility to prove him wrong.”

Leslie Johnson, 60, was sentenced Friday to a year and a day in prison followed by two years of supervised release for conspiring to commit witness and evidence tampering. She has also been ordered to pay a $15,000 fine and perform 240 hours of community service.

To date, a total of 15 defendants have been convicted in relationship to this extortion conspiracy.

Both James Johnson and Baig face a maximum sentence of five years in prison for conspiracy to commit extortion. Their sentencing is scheduling for March 12 and 19, respectively, according to the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Patrck Ricker faces a maximum of five years in prison for honest services fraud, false statements conspiracy and tax evasion. His sentencing is scheduled for March 12. 

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