By Courtland Milloy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 14, 2010; 7:21 PM
Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson ought to have a fairly easy time getting the charges against him dropped. It's obviously a case of mistaken identity. Only a nincompoop would do what the FBI alleges he did.
For instance, on Friday morning, federal agents say they confiscated $15,000 that a real estate developer had just handed to Johnson in exchange for Johnson helping the developer get federal funds.
Then, they borrowed the county's executive's cellphone.
"After FBI agents imaged the telephone, they returned the phone to Jack Johnson, who then left the area," according to the FBI affidavit.
Now, who in their right mind would use that bugged phone just minutes later to tell his wife, who was at home with FBI agents knocking on the front door, "Tear up the check," grab $79,000 in cash, and "put it in your bra and walk out or something," as the FBI alleges Johnson did?
Get real, G-men. We're talking about a former county state's attorney, not some dumb kid from an episode of "The Wire," aren't we?
In 2008, the FBI raided the homes and offices of two of Johnson's closest senior aides. Johnson responded at the time through his spokesman: "This is, what, the third fishing expedition? They have not yet caught even a minnow."
Only a man with nothing to hide thumbs his nose at the FBI. Otherwise, common sense would say: Lie low, Jack. Better ease on home and tidy up. Give yourself time to think: In case of an emergency, would the wife's bra really be the best place to hide a large sum of cash? If a developer gives me a check for $100,000 in 2007 and the FBI raids my pals in 2008, maybe I shouldn't wait until 2010 before deciding to flush the check. I'm just saying.
So here we are two years later, and the feds are apparently still hung up on the minnow remark.
"We don't go on fishing expeditions," U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein said at a news conference Friday, announcing the arrest of Johnson and his wife, Leslie, on charges of tampering with evidence and destroying evidence in a corruption case involving real estate developers and county officials.
"We expect additional defendants and additional charges," Rosenstein said.
How could that be? Everybody knows by now how the FBI operates - wiretaps, videotape surveillance, stings, informants, raids, tails, Global Positioning System tracking. What elected official still dares to mess with the G-men?
Supposedly Johnson was caught on FBI videotape accepting a bribe. No way. Not after what happened to Andre J. Hornsby, the former Prince George's schools chief.
Back in 2004, Hornsby walks into hotel room and begins talking to a longtime associate about the possibility that he has been tailed. But he is smart, see. He drives a circuitous route to shake any possible tail and then makes a mental note of the make, model and color of cars in the parking lot.
As Hornsby talks about purging his e-mails from the school system computers, the associate hands him $1,000, a kickback for steering contracts her way. Hornsby tucks the bills into his pocket and smiles. He is smooth and cool.
Until he gets busted - and learns that the associate is secretly cooperating with the FBI and agents got it all on tape.
One day, you're feeling slick as greased lightening. The next day, it's as if you've been struck by lightning. As a FBI agent narrates for the jury, you sit watching yourself on a video monitor being played for a fool. Transcripts of your telephone calls and content from those e-mails you thought had been deleted are read aloud.
When women on the jury start looking at you like you're one of those black men from a Tyler Perry movie, you know your goose is cooked.
According to the FBI affidavit, federal agents asked Johnson why the developer had given the money. They concluded that Johnson had probably given "false statements" when he answered that "the cash was for a party marking the end of his tenure as County Executive."
Come on, G-men. You definitely have the wrong guy if you think that was a lie.