Leslie Johnson scheduled for plea hearing

June 24, 2011

Prince George’s County Council member Leslie Johnson (D), who faces criminal charges in connection with a sweeping corruption investigation, is scheduled to appear in federal court Thursday for a plea hearing.

The scheduling of such a hearing usually signals that a defendant intends to enter a guilty plea and has reached a deal with prosecutors. No deal is final until a defendant admits guilt in court and a judge approves the agreement.

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 county officials accepted and solicited bribes.

Thursday’s scheduled hearing marks the second time a plea hearing has been set in Leslie Johnson’s case. A May court hearing was canceled two days before it was to occur.

Federal officials said that as FBI agents banged on the Johnsons’ door Nov. 12, Leslie Johnson hid $79,600 in cash in her underwear and flushed a $100,000 check from a developer down the toilet.

If Johnson is convicted of a felony, Maryland law requires she step down from her council seat.

Last month, Jack Johnson pleaded guilty to two felony counts: extortion and tampering with witnesses and evidence. Jack Johnson, who is scheduled to be sentenced in September, admitted he had accepted more than $400,000 in bribes from developers in exchange for helping them with projects in the county.

In addition to Jack Johnson, a former county police sergeant, three developers and the husband-and-wife owners of a prominent county liquor store have entered guilty pleas in connection with the far-reaching corruption investigation, which also revealed a scheme to distribute black-market alcohol.

Leslie Johnson and her attorney, Shawn M. Wright, did not return phone calls Friday.

Sources close to the investigation have said Johnson has been working to reach a deal with prosecutors.

Johnson was elected to the County Council days before she and her husband were arrested. Johnson, like her husband, is a lawyer and had worked as an administrative law judge in the District before running for the council.

Since her arrest, she has kept a high profile on the council, holding regular meetings with constituents and attending community events. Johnson also regularly attends council committee meetings, even though her colleagues in December refused to assign her to any committees.

At council hearings, Johnson often speaks out about issues, questions witnesses and offers suggestions to her colleagues. Viewed as a canny political strategist, she has become something of a political mentor to some council members, notably Chairman Ingrid Turner (D-Bowie) and freshman Karen Toles (D-Suitland).

Johnson often advises Turner and Toles during council meetings.

On Monday, Johnson “called up” a development proposal in her district for council review, stepping into an arena that is at the heart of the corruption case.

Johnson, through a spokeswoman, declined earlier this week to explain her reasons for calling up the proposal for a more extensive review, rather than allowing it to be approved by the council that day.

The plan, from Ryan Homes, asked permission to make changes to some of the designs of the single-family houses in a development known as Oak Creek. Johnson’s colleagues did not raise any questions about the call-up, even though they had said in December that they would handle development issues in her district.

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