Johnson, 62, who had asserted his innocence and vowed to fight the charges as recently as March, pleaded guilty to extortion and witness- and evidence-tampering. There is no agreement on a specific punishment, but prosecutors said they will seek prison time at a sentencing hearing Sept. 15, and federal guidelines recommend a term of 11 to 13 years. He remains free until sentencing.
“This has been a very trying time for my family and I,” Johnson said after the hearing, declining to discuss specifics of the case. “I want to say to all the citizens of Prince George’s County, I’m very sorry for what happened. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of the Lord.”
U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said that Johnson’s conviction marked “a milestone in the investigation” but that federal agents and prosecutors are still at work.
The case burst into the spotlight in November when Johnson and his wife, Leslie, 59, now a member of the County Council, were arrested at their brick colonial in Mitchellville. The couple were overheard on an FBI wiretap plotting to hide $79,600 in cash in Leslie Johnson’s bra and underwear and flush a $100,000 check from a developer down the toilet as federal agents knocked at the door, court papers say.
Both Johnsons were charged with evidence tampering, and Jack Johnson was later indicted on bribery and corruption charges. Prosecutors dropped the bribery charges as part of the plea. Rosenstein said Johnson’s deal would have no bearing on his wife’s case.
On Tuesday, Johnson hugged and greeted friends who had come to support him. In court, Johnson, who was the county’s top prosecutor before he served as county executive from December 2002 to 2010, told District Judge Peter J. Messitte that he was entering a guilty plea.
But as Assistant U.S. Attorney James Crowell prepared to describe Johnson’s wrongdoings, it appeared the deal might fall apart.
Messitte asked Johnson whether the admissions in the plea agreement were true.
“Generally, yes, sir,” Johnson said, prompting prosecutors to say the deal was off if Johnson did not fully admit guilt.
“I’m not trying to force this on you,” Messitte said. “You’re a former prosecutor, so you know.”
“I accept the document,” Johnson replied. Later in the hearing, Johnson said he wanted to talk about facts that could “explain” some of his actions. His attorney, Billy Martin, said that explanation would come at sentencing.