Hours after his arrest, Johnson announced that he was “innocent of these charges” and was “absolutely convinced” that he would be cleared. He pleaded guilty in May to extortion and to witness and evidence tampering.
Leslie Johnson (D), who was elected to the County Council 10 days before her arrest, will be sentenced Friday for her role in the extortion scheme. She pleaded guilty in June to one felony count of conspiracy to commit witness and evidence tampering and faces up to 18 months in federal prison. She did not attend her husband’s sentencing, but one of their two sons was there.
Meanwhile, at Tuesday’s hearing, a bespectacled Johnson appeared thin and balding and relied on a cane to keep him steady in his eight-minute statement. He recited a list of accomplishments during his eight years as county executive and pleaded with the judge to consider his good deeds.
“I worked so hard for the people of Prince George’s County, and I achieved so much,” he said, adding that he handed out 127 student scholarships and shipped medical supplies to Africa.
Messitte agreed that Johnson did “some good things,” but the judge showed little sympathy.
“You’re supposed to do all these good things,” Messitte said. “That’s what you were elected to do. You were not elected to line your pockets.
“Let’s be clear on who brought that on,” the judge said. “I did not. The government did not. You, Mr. Johnson, brought that on.”
Tuesday’s hearing brought to a close what had all the makings of a storied career. Johnson was sworn in nine years ago as only the second black person to hold the office of county executive in Prince George’s. As the former state’s attorney, Johnson was among the first wave of African American politicians to take control of Maryland’s second-largest county, which had been historically white and blue-collar but is now middle-class and largely black.
He cast an image of success and affluence that his supporters wanted to portray to the world. In many ways, he succeeded. Johnson lured Wegmans — the county’s first high-end grocery store — to the area and led Prince George’s during completion of the $2 billion, 300-acre National Harbor project nestled on the banks of the Potomac River, which includes a convention center, restaurants and retail.
Although Johnson was quick to take credit for improvements and growth in the county, he was just as swift in defending his questionable actions, which dogged him throughout his second term.
In August 2006, an investigation by The Washington Post found that he had awarded 51 county contracts totaling more than $3 million to 15 friends and supporters. In some instances, he gave the contracts after failing to persuade the County Council to put those supporters into county jobs. He also created more than a dozen high-profile positions and filled them with friends and fraternity brothers. Some of those who received contracts or jobs had no expertise in the field, and others did not produce written reports required by the county.
The Post also found that Johnson — and council members — charged thousands of dollars to county-issued credit cards to pay for personal expenses, violating county policy. Johnson’s charges included trips home to South Carolina, to visit his mother; to Texas, to attend his daughter’s wedding reception; and a $6,003 business-class trip to Senegal, for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for homes built by a county developer.