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Jack Johnson's arrest rocks Prince George's government workers

Jack B. Johnson, Prince George's County's executive, was arrested Nov. 12 as federal investigators executed search warrants at the County Administration Building. His wife, Leslie Johnson, was also arrested. Each was charged with evidence tempering and destroying evidence.

"You pray for them," Shell said. "It's unexpected and something that was never even thought of before as being in the realm of possibility."

Others, though, had braced for such a day.

"Honestly, I'm not surprised," said one county employee who was headed to lunch after getting an e-mail about the arrests. One of his co-workers heard people shuffling around in the office and joked that "we're under siege."

"If you look at the county and where it stands now, do you really see any improvements?" asked the employee, who declined to be named because he feared losing his job. "It's just really sad."

A new county executive, Rushern L. Baker III, ran on a reform platform, and five new county council members, including Leslie Johnson, are scheduled to be sworn in Dec. 6.

Still, many said the county's reputation will suffer reverberations from the allegations for some time.

Baker, a Democrat, chose to stay silent Friday. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) issued a statement saying the events marked a sad day for Prince George's.

Baker's campaign platform pledged to clean up county government, and he often criticized what he said was a culture of cronyism and "pay for play," a reference to allegations that businesses had to make payoffs to get contracts or business deals in the county.

Outgoing County Council member Tony Knotts (D-Temple Hills) said he wasn't in the office Friday because he and other officials are making the transition out of government. He called the arrests "a complete surprise" and said a search of government offices by federal authorities was troubling. "PG government in total is tainted by the implication," he said.

Trust in government will be damaged regardless of the outcome, Knotts said, but "it'll be a disservice to the citizens" if the arrests are based on "something that is untrue."

"I'm not worried about any accusation until it's proven," he said.

Staff writers Nathan Rott and Akeya Dickson contributed to this report.

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