Federal prosecutors want former Prince George’s County Councilwoman Leslie Johnson to serve at least one year in prison on corruption charges, citing audio recordings of tapped phone calls that show Johnson’s “abundant knowledge” of a long-running extortion scheme.
Johnson (D-Dist. 6) of Mitchellville pleaded guilty in June to a felony charge of conspiracy to commit witness and evidence tampering relating to an extortion scheme allegedly run by her husband, former County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D).
In a sentencing memorandum filed Nov. 8 in U.S. District Court, prosecutors asked that Leslie Johnson be given a sentence of between 12 and 18 months in prison, “a sentence that will promote respect for federal law and deter others from engaging in corruption and obstructing justice.”
The couple was arrested Nov. 12, 2010, in connection with a federal corruption investigation.
Attorneys for both Leslie and Jack Johnson did not return calls for comment.
Audio recordings of tapped phone calls provided by prosecutors indicate that after federal agents raided his office, Jack Johnson called his wife at their home, told her to find a $100,000 check from a developer in their bedroom drawer and instructed her to hide $79,000 in cash. Leslie Johnson was found by agents with money stuffed in her undergarments, while the check apparently was flushed down the toliet, according to the memorandum.
“You want me to put it down the toilet?” Leslie Johnson can be heard asking her husband on the recording, referring to the check.
“Yeah, flush that,” Jack Johnson tells her.
Later, Leslie Johnson asks her husband what she should do with the cash.
“What do you want me to do with this money? They are banging,” she asked as federal agents continued to pound on the door.
“Put it in your panties and walk out of the house,” Jack Johnson tells her. Later, he advises her to tell investigators she was in the bathroom.
Later still, there is a sound like breaking glass, and a woman, presumably Johnson, yells, “Oh my God, what is going on?”
FBI agents then tell Leslie Johnson they are there to execute a search warrant and ask her if there is anyone else in the house. She replies that there is not.
The recording demonstrates Leslie Johnson was clear-minded and “clearly had her wits about her” as federal agents arrived at the couple’s home, according to the memorandum.
Johnson did not object when her husband instructed her to lie to agents, saying she was not dressed, and destroy the check, and she never asked him what was going on, according to the memorandum.
“[Leslie Johnson] willfully elected to join her husband in thwarting the public’s righteous expectation that the law be enforced,” prosecutors wrote.
Additional recordings indicate Jack Johnson soliciting donations for his wife’s County Council campaign, implying she would use her position on the council to help contributors, and feature Leslie Johnson telling her husband she would help a developer who donated, according to the memorandum.
The memorandum also alleges Jack Johnson used his influence as sitting county executive to try to obtain free office space for his wife’s campaign and had county employees who worked under him hand out her campaign literature.
“[Leslie Johnson] expressed no disapproval of this abuse of power by her husband ... to further her political aspirations,” prosecutors wrote.
Johnson, who was elected Nov. 2, 2010, to the County Council, was sworn in Dec. 6, but barred by the rest of the council from voting in the four committees that review and amend legislation and from guiding projects in her district through the zoning process.
Leslie Johnson stayed on the council — and the public payroll — for a month after her guilty plea, even though she had little to no authority — a move that “must defeat any claim she was motivated by public interest,” according to the memorandum.
Sandy Pruitt of Mitchellville, leader of watchdog group People for Change, said she hoped the sentencing would send a message to other legislators that people are paying attention to them and their actions, but was surprised the sentencing request was that severe. Pruitt said she expected Leslie Johnson to get a lighter punishment, such as community service.
Pruitt, who had not heard the audio recordings but had previously read published transcripts, said it had sounded as if Leslie Johnson panicked when agents arrived at her home, and a level-headed Jack Johnson had to guide her to dispose of the check.
Sentencing for Jack Johnson is scheduled for Dec. 6, while sentencing for Leslie Johnson is scheduled for Dec. 9.