It was all “a terrible mistake,” James Johnson told U.S. District Judge James J. Messitte shortly before he was sentenced to three years in prison and fined $25,000 for a bribery scheme he ran with Jack Johnson. In fact, as prosecutors and court documents make clear, the two Johnsons were deliberate and systematic about squeezing developers for hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks and bribes over a number of years. This was no “mistake”; this was standard operating procedure in Jack Johnson’s administration.
James Johnson was not unlike plenty of Jack Johnson’s associates. He was installed in his job — in James Johnson’s case, an important job, as the county’s housing director, overseeing a budget of $80 million — for no reason other than his loyalty. He said he didn’t even think himself qualified for the position.
The James Johnson case sheds some light on the unfinished business facing prosecutors. As The Post reported in 2007, a committee of Jack Johnson’s lackeys was tasked with distributing some $350,000 squeezed from the developer of National Harbor, Milton V. Peterson. The money amounted to a slush fund, used to grease the palms of Jack Johnson’s friends, associates and allies.
The fund was effectively controlled by Michael Arrington, one of Jack Johnson’s closest confidants and longtime contributors. Mr. Arrington funnelled tens of thousands of dollars as he saw fit, including to the private school attended by his daughters. (No problem, said Mr. Arrington: “My children benefit from going to the school. I get no benefit at all.”)
Another $14,000 in grants from the fund went to the Jerusalem AME Church in Clinton, whose pastor, Diane J. Johnson, is married to James Johnson. As Mrs. Johnson herself told The Post, she wasn’t sure how all that money was spent.
Prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Baltimore have made excellent progress in cracking corruption in Prince George’s. Fifteen of 16 defendants have been convicted so far in corruption investigations in the county, many of them tied to Jack Johnson. But plenty more remains to be done, as U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein has said repeatedly. In the meantime, the stench of corruption still hovering over Prince George’s will not have dissipated.