Ex-Pr. George’s executive Johnson tried to line up business deals at end of term
By Miranda S. Spivack and Ovetta Wiggins,
In his last year in office, Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson spent much of his time lining up business deals for himself, hoping to cash in once he left county government.
Johnson (D) was overheard by federal agents in dozens of intercepted calls and videotaped meetings working out deals with county developers, contractors and a county hospital official as payback for favors he had bestowed during his eight years as county executive.
In one such quid pro quo, he talked about how he arranged the appointment of a top official at the county hospital in exchange for the promise of lucrative contracts for himself, prosecutors said.
“Part, look, part of the deal, too, with [hospital official] is that um, um, there will be some place for me when I leave also,” Johnson said in one recorded conversation.
“You know even if it is just a contract. Well, it will probably just be a contract somewhere. I don’t want no job,” he added.
Johnson, 62, also the county’s former top prosecutor, is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday in federal court in Greenbelt after pleading guilty earlier this year to extortion and witness and evidence tampering. He faces up to 14 years in prison. His wife, Leslie Johnson, 60, a former member of the Prince George’s County Council, is set to be sentenced on Friday after pleading guilty to destroying evidence; she faces up to 18 months in prison.
The sentencings will bring an end to the high-profile criminal prosecutions of the Johnsons, once a political power couple known in the county and beyond. But the full impact of the investigation is still unfolding.
Officials in the administration of County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), Johnson’s successor, are studying a recently filed prosecution memorandum to try to determine whether any current contractors, county employees or hospital officials might be implicated in wrongdoing. They said they had no prior knowledge of the issues outlined in the memorandum. The chairman of the county hospital’s board, Circuit Court Judge C. Philip Nichols Jr., said he expects to appoint an outside investigator this week to look into the role of hospital officials.
As county executive, prosecutors have said, Jack Johnson engaged in a wide-ranging corruption scheme that dated to his first days in office in 2002.
In the memorandum calling for a stiff sentence, prosecutors said Johnson steered millions of dollars in federal funds to developers in exchange for bribes; worked to secure a job at a county hospital for a female physician at the behest of a developer who paid him bribes even though hospital officials said the woman was not qualified; and sought state support for changes in liquor laws to help a liquor store owner who was bribing him.
The memorandum says there is substantial evidence that Johnson planned to continue to line his pockets once he left office.
During a wiretapped conversation, Johnson bragged about the number of jobs he had arranged and the money he expected to rake in. Five people each had agreed to pay him $12,000 a month as a consultant, he said. Another developer would give him $15,000 a month. And “then there’s the deal I worked with somebody at the the hospital,” he said.
“When I leave I’ll have about . . . $900,000,” Johnson told a family member.
Prosecutors described several conversations Johnson had with an unnamed “hospital official” in spring and summer 2010, and said “that he was arranging it so the hospital official would run the county’s hospital system and provide [Johnson] with a consulting job, once he left office.” That consulting job was to pay Johnson up to $15,000 a month; Johnson also later worked out an agreement to do legal work for the hospital at the same pay rate, prosecutors said.
That summer, there was a change in leadership at the hospital. Ken Glover, who had been chairman of a panel assigned to find a buyer to take over the beleaguered county hospital system, took over as president of Dimensions Healthcare System, which runs the hospital.
Glover acknowledged in interviews that he is the hospital official in the August 2010 conversations with Johnson that were described in the prosecution memorandum. Glover said he did not recall any prior conversations detailed in the memorandum.
Glover said that shortly after taking over on Aug. 2, 2010, he talked to Johnson about Johnson’s plans. He said Johnson “asks, ‘Help me think through my future.’ I give him options. There is no piece of paper; we did not get to the concept,” Glover said. “I don’t remember having a conversation with Jack until . . . August,” he said.
“I walk in in August. The stuff before that I cannot speak to,” he said.
Any deals with Johnson would have had to have been approved by the hospital board, he said. “It just never matured. ”
Nichols, the hospital board chairman, has begun notifying board members of plans to place Glover on a paid leave pending the investigation.
Glover said late Saturday via e-mail that he is “ confident it will show all existing Dimensions leadership acted appropriately” and that he expects to return to his job after his leave, once the inquiry is completed.
About the same time Johnson was working out arrangements with the hospital, he was trying to get a consulting deal with a company that manages some county funds, prosecutors said. Baker administration officials are trying to determine which firm was involved.
Johnson told an unnamed employee of the firm that he could ensure that the county would give the company more money to invest, prosecutors wrote. In exchange, he said, he wanted a job.
Three months later, Johnson called the employee to say that the county had doubled its investment to $40 million. “If you don’t have people on the inside fighting for you, you don’t have a chance,” Johnson told the employee during an intercepted call.
The employee said: “I’m going to show you how grateful I am and then some.”
During an October 2010 phone call between Johnson and a family member whom Johnson helped get a county job, Johnson said he was still solidifying his plans.
“Right now the only thing I got locked down, in terms of commitment, is um [the hospital official],” he said. “But there are two or three other people I’m talking to.”
The Johnsons’ son Bruce was hired by the county health department just before his father left office, in a process that appeared to flout county rules.
Johnson said he also planned to make some “good money” by developing a senior citizens center. He planned to use federal housing funds, a key part of his bribery scheme, to build the center, and then would bid on a county contract to offer senior services. In a recorded call, a county official agreed to help.
Bradford Seamon, Baker’s top aide, said late last week the administration finds the allegations “very concerning.”
In a follow-up e-mail, Seamon said “the Baker Administration has taken immediate action to promptly identify any individuals or firms mentioned in the memorandum who work for or do business with Prince George’s County so that decisive appropriate action can be taken with respect to any person or activity within the County’s direct control.
“Furthermore the administration has worked in concert with the Dimensions Board to encourage Mr. Glover to take leave as CEO. We are pleased that Mr. Glover has agreed to do so.”
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