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Prince George's residents take arrest of county executive Johnson personally

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The Washington Post's Robert McCartney discusses the latest developments in the arrest of Prince Georges County Executive Jack Johnson.

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By Rosalind S. Helderman, Hamil R. Harris and Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, November 14, 2010; 8:41 PM

Given that Prince George's County residents had largely said their goodbyes to Jack B. Johnson, whose eight years as county executive end in three weeks, news of his arrest on criminal charges might have been shrugged off as yesterday's news.

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But then out spilled the allegations in Johnson's arrest - almost $80,000 in cash collected from wife Leslie Johnson's bra, an $100,000 check flushed down the toilet of his Mitchellville home as FBI agents stood outside.

For many residents, the events Friday made the end of his term painful. Supporters had seen his survival through years of swirling rumors of corruption as a symbol of the county's scrappy quest for respect.

Even some detractors of Johnson (D) seemed deflated by the news and wondered: If he had to go down, did it have to be like this?

"People are taking this very personally," said Angelo Vaughn, 53, as he worked on the engine of his red Jeep Cherokee with two cousins in Hyattsville on Sunday. "My wife is taking this very personally, and she never met Jack Johnson. How could a person in such a vaunted position, weeks before the end of his term, get caught?"

"People are saying this is so embarrassing," he said.

Authorities say Johnson's arrest is part of a four-year federal investigation of allegations that developers have paid bribes in exchange for official favors from Prince George's officials.

Johnson and his wife, who was elected to the County Council in November, have been charged with destroying evidence and tampering with witnesses. U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein said Friday that more arrests and charges are likely, which has many developers and elected leaders worried about the scope of the investigation.

At a news conference after he was released from custody, Johnson said he is innocent and will be vindicated when the facts of the case come out.

All weekend, in front yards, in church parking lots, on street corners and in diners, Prince George's residents were talking more privately than publicly about Johnson's plight. Many spoke in hushed tones, and some asked not to be quoted.

"The people are hurt," Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene W. Grant said. "They are also angry. They are angry at the investigators and the timing. They're angry at the people who put themselves in this position. We were the shining example of black intellect and black wealth in the country. We are the place where people in the country looked to. Now, the national reputation is based upon disgrace, ineffective leadership and corruption."

Louise Reeder, 71, lived in the county for more than 10 years before moving to the District but returns on Sundays to attend Kent Baptist Church in Hyattsville.


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