After arrests of Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson and wife, more are expected
Saturday, November 13, 2010; 9:25 PM
The arrests Friday of Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson and his wife suggest that a federal investigation of corruption in county government, long a subject of rumor and speculation, is reaching critical mass.
Law enforcement officials familiar with the probe, which is being overseen by the U.S. attorney for Maryland, said more arrests are expected, possibly this week.
Johnson (D), whose term ends next month, and his wife, Leslie Johnson (D), newly elected to the Prince George's County Council, were charged with destroying and tampering with evidence.
They were arrested after Jack Johnson pocketed $15,000 in cash from a developer Friday, the FBI said in an affidavit, and his wife, at home, stuffed $79,600 in cash in her underwear and flushed a $100,000 check down a toilet as federal agents knocked on her door.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing, authorities said the FBI intends to conduct more searches of homes and offices, seeking evidence of graft related to developer contracts. On Friday, agents carried out searches at the Johnsons' home and the County Administration Building.
A spokesman for County Executive-elect Rushern L. Baker III, who has pledged ethics reform, issued a statement Saturday saying the arrests would not interfere with his new administration's efforts to focus on residents' needs and to clean up county business practices. Baker has promised to establish an inspector general's office to root out waste, fraud and abuse and to move to end the practice in which people can contribute to slates of candidates in addition to individuals. Developers have been significant campaign contributors.
Exactly where the investigation is focused remains unclear. Rumblings of wrongdoing in the county have been persistent for years, although until now,Johnson had not been officially implicated in any impropriety.
This is not the first development-related investigation to emerge in the county.
The FBI spent many months examining details of a huge development project in Greenbelt and its ties to a former County Council member and two of his golfing buddies. In 2008, agents involved in the inquiry obtained search warrants for several homes and offices, including the offices of two of Johnson's top aides.
Another target of an FBI search during the investigation, developer Patrick Ricker, had held a $500-a-head fundraiser for Johnson in 2002. Ricker was involved in the Greenbelt development, which had Johnson's strong backing.
In 2006, The Washington Post reported that 15 friends and political allies of Johnson's had received 51 county contracts worth nearly $3.3 million.
Some were paid to advise the county on matters in which they had little experience, and some failed to produce required reports about their work. Johnson said the contractors were "first-class people."