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Posted at 12:22 AM ET, 06/30/2011

Leslie Johnson expected in court

Prince George’s County Council Member Leslie Johnson is scheduled to appear in court Thursday morning for a plea hearing in connection with a far-reaching corruption probe.

Johnson (D-Mitchellville), 59, is accused of destroying evidence on the November day she and her husband, former county executive Jack B. Johnson (D), 62, were arrested as part of a federal investigation into whether public officials in the county accepted and solicited bribes.

Johnson is scheduled for a 10 a.m. plea agreement hearing. Such proceedings usually mean a defendant intends to enter a guilty plea and has reach an agreement with prosecutors. Such agreements are not final until a defendant admits guilt in court, and the plea is approved by a judge.

If Johnson is convicted of a felony, she would have to step down from her council seat, ending her brief political career. In September, she defeated a handful of challengers in the Democratic primary, winning more than 40 percent of the vote in her district. She ran unopposed in the Nov. 2 general election.

Just ten days later, Leslie and Jack Johnson, who was nearing his second term as county executive, were arrested by FBI agents at their home in the upscale Mitchellville neighborhood, part of an investigation federal authorities said had started six years earlier.

Johnson, who is always well-coiffed and elegantly dressed, remained on the County Council after her arrest, and her colleagues have privately marveled about her ability to show no public anxiety about her court case.

Johnson, with  experience as an administrative law judge, and as her husband’s longtime political confidante, has shown herself to be a savvy political strategist, advising her less-experienced colleagues. Even though her colleagues had barred her from serving on committees and handling development issues in her district, she has asked probing questions of council witnesses discussing everything from health care to stormwater management, and has generally inserted herself in council proceedings and deliberations.

Leslie Johnson had been scheduled to attend a court hearing early last month, where she was expected to plead guilty. That hearing was suddenly canceled two days before it was to take place.

So far, 11 people, including Jack Johnson, three developers, husband-and-wife liquor store owners and two Prince George’s police officers who are known to have pleaded guilty in connection with the probe, which also revealed a ring trafficking contraband alcohol and cigarettes.

Jack Johnson, who is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 15, admitted he had accepted more than $400,000 in bribes from developers and other business people and was convicted of two felonies. According to court papers filed by prosecutors, Johnson took bribes in exchange for helping developers obtain government funding, and also assisted the co-owners of a series of liquor stores obtain business licenses.

.The November morning of his arrest, FBI agents confronted Jack Johnson after he accepted $15,000 in cash from a developer — someone who, it turns out, was cooperating with investigators. Soon after, agents listened in on a wiretap as Jack Johnson called his wife.

In a taped conversation that made national news, Leslie Johnson told her husband that FBI agents were banging at the door of their home, court paper say. Jack Johnson told her to tell the agents she was undressed, and directed her to tear up a $100,000 check from a developer. Leslie Johnson tore up the check and flushed it down a toilet, according to court filings.

As she was searching for the check, Leslie Johnson said, “You want me to take the cash out of here too?” according to a transcript of the conversation included in government court filings.

“Um, yeah,” Jack Johnson replied. “Okay, um, put it in your bra or somethin’ like that and walk out of it.”

Minutes later, Leslie Johnson called her husband back. “What do you want me to do with this money?” she asked.

“Put it in your panties and walk out of the house,” Jack Johnson replied.

“No, but I mean all this cash Jack,” Leslie Johnson replied.

Her husband again told her to stuff the money in her panties.

Federal agents who searched Leslie Johnson found $79,600 in cash in her bra and underwear, according to court filings.

By and  |  12:22 AM ET, 06/30/2011

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