Johnson, wife charged by feds in pay-to-play scheme
Prince George's County executive accused of taking $120K in exchange for federal development funds
This story was updated Friday, Nov. 12, at 7:41 p.m.
Photo gallery: View photos from the arrest.
Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson is accused of accepting cash in return for helping a developer secure federal funding, and then conspiring with his wife to destroy evidence as federal investigators closed in Friday morning.
Johnson and his wife, Leslie E. Johnson, who recently won her bid to represent District 6 on the Prince George's County Council, were arrested Friday by federal agents at their Mitchellville home.
Both are charged with tampering with a witness and evidence relating to the commission of a federal offense, and destruction, alteration, and falsification of records in a federal investigation.
The Johnsons had an initial appearance Friday evening in the Greenbelt court before U.S. Magistrate Judge William Connelly. If convicted, they could each face a maximum of 40 years in prison, three years' supervised release and up to $250,000 in fines, Connelly said.
A criminal complaint filed Friday evening in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt by a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent also describes the couple's conversations on a wiretapped phone just before their arrests, and the county executive allegedly can be heard telling his wife to flush evidence down the toilet and hide cash in her underwear to evade FBI agents.
According to the complaint, Jack Johnson is accused of receiving a check for $100,000, in exchange for helping an unidentified developer secure federal funding through funds allocated to the county by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's HOME Investment Partnerships. He is also accused of accepting $20,000 in cash in exchange for using his influence to benefit the same developer.
The complaint alleges the scheme began around 2007, but did not specify how much in HOME funds he allegedly secured for the developer, nor did it specify which development projects were involved.
During the course of the investigation, court-authorized wiretaps in place since January not only caught Jack Johnson in the midst of two of the alleged cash payoffs, but also captured Johnson and his wife speaking on the phone prior to their arrest about disposing of a check and cash.
The complaint alleges the two were referring to the check and cash paid to Jack Johnson and includes a partial transcript of their conversation shortly before their arrest.
At around 10:12 a.m., the complaint states, the wiretap captured Leslie Johnson saying to her husband that there were "two women at the door," who are later identified as FBI agents.
Jack Johnson is then captured telling his wife to get the "check in there that [Developer A] wrote to me," referring to a drawer in his bedroom, which the complaint alleges is a reference to the $100,000 check.
He is later captured telling Leslie Johnson to also take an unspecified amount of cash and "Put it in your bra and walk out or something, I don't know what to do." He is also captured telling his wife to rip up the check or flush it down the toilet.
The complaint alleges agents subsequently heard a flushing sound in the background. A plumber was called to the Johnsons' house after the arrest to search toilets.
Finally, Leslie Johnson is captured telling her husband that she had the cash "in my bra."
According to the complaint, investigators recovered $79,600 in cash from her underwear.
"It's involved excellent work by FBI agents along with the IRS," said Rod J. Rosenstein, United States Attorney for the District of Maryland. "The agents responded, I think, brilliantly and conducted a very thorough investigation."
Rosenstein said he expects there to be additional arrests and charges, but declined to say who those charges would be against.
Attorneys William Martin and Brian K. McDaniel, who unsuccessfully ran for the District 21 House of Delegates seat in September, are representing Jack Johnson. Attorneys Roland Patterson and Cynthia Carol Works are representing Leslie Johnson.
"She's not guilty of the charges," Patterson said. "Mrs. Johnson is asking for the prayers and support of all her family members and friends as she goes through the ordeal of fighting and disproving these allegations."
At about 7:20 p.m. Friday, Jack Johnson spoke to reporters about the charges.
"I have three weeks to go and I'm going to put all my efforts into this defense and to take care of business for the people of Prince George's County," Johnson said.
Johnson declined to speak regarding specifics of the case.
"I cannot [discuss] these charges or my lawyers will kill me," Johnson said. "But let me state that I'm innocent of these charges and I just can't wait for the facts to come out."
Jack Johnson has been ordered on home detention. He can only leave for work, medical appearances or court appearances. He also is on electronic monitoring.
Leslie Johnson is under court supervision. Neither is allowed to make financial transaction of more than $1,000 excluding mortgage, utility and attorney fees.
The Johnsons' preliminary hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m. Dec. 13.
At approximately 12:30 p.m., Jack Johnson was led out of his home in handcuffs, a jacket draped around his shoulders, and driven off in an unmarked car. About 15 minutes earlier, a woman who appeared to be Leslie Johnson and had a jacket over her face also was led out of the home.
A plumber, Steve Willsey, whose truck for Gene's Plumbing of Harwood was parked outside the house, said the FBI called him in to check the home's toilets, but he found nothing.
Neighbor Ebony Khan, who lives a few houses down from the Johnsons, said Jack Johnson spoke at a tribute for her father and she saw him often at neighborhood events.
"It's just shocking ... with all the success that they had," she said.
Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Dist. 47) of Cheverly described the news Friday as "shocking."
"Nobody expects your county executive to be arrested."
While federal agents were searching the Johnsons' home Friday afternoon, county spokesman Jim Keary assured residents that Jack Johnson "is still in charge" and today is "like any other day" for county employees.
At a news conference outside the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro, Keary also confirmed that if Johnson were "incapacitated," his duties would be filled by Howard A. Burnett, the county's deputy chief administrative officer for the Office of Health and Human Services.
Keary and Karen D. Campbell, a spokeswoman for the County Council, said the county's attorney would be looking into when Burnett would be required to take over as the Johnson investigation continues. Burnett was not immediately available for comment.
Campbell said at the news conference it was too premature to discuss what will happen to the County Council District 6 seat now slated to be filled by Leslie Johnson.
She noted that no County Council members' offices or homes were searched as part of the investigation.
"Government continues to run, and checks continue to get signed," Keary said.
Check back for more information as it becomes available.
Staff Writers Alison E. Walker and Jeffrey K. Lyles contributed to this report.