Former Prince George’s County Council member Leslie Johnson, who made international news when she hid cash bribes in her bra, was sentenced Friday to one year and one day in prison in a far-reaching corruption case.
Johnson, 60, had faced up to 18 months in prison, according to federal guidelines. Her lawyers asked for probation, citing her responsibilities caring for aged mother, an ill sister, and a son in his 20s who is in graduate school and living at home.
U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte said Johnson will be eligible for release in 10 months. He also ordered her to serve two years supervised release, to perform 240 hours community service and to pay a $15,000 fine. She is to report for prison March 9.
In court, Johnson apologized for her actions the November 2010 day when she flushed a $100,000 check down the toilet and hid cash in her bra and underwear as federal agents knocked at her door. The bribes had been taken by her huband, former Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), who this week was sentenced to 7 years in prison.
“I refused to allow my aberrant behavior to define me,” Johnson said. She described herself as a “woman of integrity, a woman of service, a woman who genuinely cares for the lives of others.”
Messitte told Johnson he did not see her conduct as an isolated incident. “Mrs. Johnson,” he said, “you are not an innocent spouse. You were a complicit spouse.”
The convictions of Leslie and Jack Johnson mark the fall of an ambitious power couple who were known as public faces of African American success in Prince George’s. Prosecutors said the investigation is continuing, leaving open the possibility that it could ensnare others who had business in the county or worked in the county government.
In their request for prison time for Leslie Johnson, prosecutors said that she had engaged in “one of the most egregious and notorious instances of obstruction of justice in recent history,” and cited her “abundant knowledge of and a future role in her husband’s corruption scheme.”
She appeared before the same judge who on Tuesday brushed aside Jack Johnson’s claims that he was ill and needed to care for his ailing brother and other family members. Messitte told Jack Johnson, who last year completed eight years as county executive, that any health problems he might have could be accommodated by the federal prison system. He said that many defendants whom he has seen in his judicial career have family responsibilities but still must be incarcerated.
Prosecutors said Leslie Johnson refused to allow federal agents armed with a search warrant into her Mitchellville home in November 2010 while she tore up a $100,000 check from a developer, hid $79,600 in her underwear, tried to sneak out of her house undetected, and then lied to federal agents who arrested her.
Johnson “chose to conspire” with her husband “to destroy a $100,000 bribe check and obstruct” the investigation, prosecutors said. Further, they said, she was not simply acting in a panic, but instead,“proposed on her own to hide nearly $80,000 in her underwear and try to sneak out of the house without being caught. . .because she knew the money represented the proceeds of Jack Johnson’s corruption.”
Leslie Johnson, like her husband an attorney, was an administrative law judge in the District. In 2010, she made a successful run for the Prince George’s County Council and served for eight months following her arrest on Nov. 12, 2010.
In June, she pleaded guilty to charges of evidence tampering but refused to step down immediately from the County Council, sparking an outcry from her council colleagues. She eventually left the job, which paid $96,417, at the end of July.
Leslie Johnson’s guilty plea came six weeks after her husband entered a guilty plea to charges of accepting more than $400,000 in bribes from developers during two terms as the county’s top official. Johnson (D-Mitchellville) admitted in court that she tried to cover up those bribes.
At the time, Leslie Johnson briefly addressed reporters. “I made a mistake,” she said, but asked that it not define her. She said she wanted to continue “to serve and help the lives of those in need.”
Federal prosecutors said Leslie Johnson was her husband’s “most trusted co-conspirator” and had longstanding “knowledge of the official corruption being carried out by her husband.” They said she “knew of and sanctioned Jack Johnson’s use of his official position to extort campaign donations and other benefits,” for her campaign for County Council, including violating campaign finance laws. In exchange, the prosecutors said, the Johnsons were “bargain [ing] her prospective position on the County Council” with developers and others.
In a 75-page sentencing memorandum in Jack Johnson’s case, prosecutors outlined a series of deals, including one with a high-ranking official of Prince George’s County Hospital Center, to work out consulting contracts for Johnson in exchange for getting a top job for the hospital official. Hospital chief Ken Glover told the Post he is the official described in at least one of the conversations with Johnson, but said no deals “matured.” Glover, a former PNC bank executive has been placed on paid leave from the hospital. Hospital board chairman C. Philip Nichols Jr., is arranging for an outside investigator to examine the role of Glover and others at the hospital.
On one of the thousands of hours of federal wiretaps, Jack Johnson can be heard discussing who Leslie Johnson was planning to back for County Council chairman, and said she would obtain a key committee post that would enable the Johnsons to continue to do favors for developers.
Before her arrest on Nov. 12, 2010, Leslie Johnson pledged to vote for Council member Ingrid Turner (D-Bowie) to be council chairman, and had been promised the chairmanship of the committee that oversees planning and zoning.
This post has been updated.
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