Former Interior Official Pleads Guilty to Accepting Kickbacks

By Derek Kravitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 31, 2009

A former Interior Department official pleaded guilty yesterday to accepting $15,000 in kickbacks from an insurance company in exchange for arranging meetings with government officials in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Edgar A. Johnson, 60, of Bowie, left his position at Interior's Office of Insular Affairs last year. He was charged in November in U.S. District Court in Washington with one count of honest services wire fraud.

Johnson, who is scheduled for sentencing April 10, faces 12 to 18 months in prison. He did not return phone calls seeking comment. His attorney, Stephen O'Neal Russell, declined to comment on the case.

A confidential informant who was a former fraternity brother of Johnson's introduced him in December 2006 to representatives of a New Jersey firm looking to sell insurance to government agencies, according to court documents.

"I'm the Virgin Islands desk officer for the government," Johnson told the men, according to the documents. "I know people but I got to be careful there for the whole idea of what we can do."

The insurance company, which is not named, offered to pay Johnson and a "relative" working in Detroit's city government for helping set up insurance contracts. In exchange, Johnson would get a 10 percent cut and the relative would get 15 percent, prosecutors said in the documents.

The Detroit deal fell through, but Johnson told his old friend that he could introduce the firm to high-level Virgin Islands officials, adding that it was his job to "spur economic development" in the territories. Johnson was given $5,000 in $100 bills in February 2007 and another $10,000 in cash in August 2007, according to the documents.

Johnson held federal jobs for nearly 30 years and had a salary of $121,000 when he retired. He told prosecutors that he was struggling to pay private school tuition for one of his children and that he was looking to "maintain his lifestyle" after his retirement.

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