Oh, that bra! Leslie Johnson shouldn't aspire to be an equal partner in crime

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 16, 2010; 12:03 AM

Years spent on the bench as a judge, the founder of social service organizations to help underprivileged women, a PTA mom, a grandmother, a public official - and what will most folks think of when Leslie Johnson comes up?

That bra. The cash. And the seemingly improbable physics of the whole caper.

(Reliable Source: Can you really stuff $79,600 in a bra?)

According to an FBI affidavit, the wife of Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson was on the phone as the feds were at her door last week, stashing cash in her bra and flushing a check down the toilet as per her husband's instructions.

If the allegations are true, Johnson will join a very rare creature in popular American culture: the wife who allegedly knew about the scandal under her nose and also served as an uber-accomplice.

For the most part, the female halves of the traditional, vanquished power couple take two forms.

The most common is the woman who knows her husband's shirt size, preference in sock brands and just how he takes his coffee yet had no earthly idea about the scandalous life that soaked their every breath.

"I am embarrassed and ashamed. Like everyone else, I feel betrayed and confused," said Ruth Madoff, in a statement she issued soon after the ultimate Ponzi swindler, her husband Bernie Madoff, was sentenced to 150 years in prison. "The man who committed this horrible fraud is not the man whom I have known for all these years."

Linda Lay sobbed as her husband, former Enron chief executive and chairman Kenneth Lay, was convicted, after she cried on national television about having to sell ALL of her homes (take a look at the six-elevator condo she held on to longest). She said the coverage of the Enron scandal "is a perfect example of how the media can play such havoc and destruction in people's lives."

And of course, poor Karen Kozlowski stood by when her now ex-husband, former Tyco International chairman L. Dennis Kozlowski, paid for her $2 million birthday bash on the island of Sardinia, a party complete with an ice sculpture of David that peed vodka.

Don't all executives' wives get that?

So much for the old-fashioned clueless wives who flitted from social event to spa appointment with no knowledge of where the dough was coming from.

Ladies, we have a new breed of feminist among us: the willing, wily and skillful accomplice. A Lady MacBeth in Tahari.

She lives an equal partnership in sickness, health and federal investigation.

These women are the Carmela Sopranos of power couples, pious and PTA on the outside, but when the feds are at the door, they're stashing cash in soup cans and ceiling tiles.

Although she stood by her man during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Hillary Clinton took arrows during the endless Whitewater investigation, never insisting that she just did the grocery shopping for the household, not the investing.

Strong, powerful women, capable of being targets just like any man.

There's Julie Doolittle, wife of former Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), who spent nearly five years under investigation alongside her husband, though neither was charged in connection with the Jack Abramoff scandal. Doolittle didn't need a husband to get her own investigation. She rated enough suspicion on her own, with Abramoff as a $5,000-a-month client for her bookkeeping and fundraising event planning business, Sierra Dominion Financial Resources.

And let's not forget former Illinois first lady Patti Blagojevich, often called a "foul-mouthed Lady McBeth."

Like these women, Leslie Johnson was not a wife who merely attended a gala or two and lavishly decorated multiple homes, marveling at the way her honey was supporting her.

She was an active member in the legal world, her community and, allegedly, in her husband's coverup of his pay-to-play deals.

This is an emerging kind of power couple.

"I can't think of many co-conspirators who are women," said Michael Cobb, an associate professor of political science at N.C. State University in Raleigh who has studied the way women are treated in congressional scandals.

"Women in scandals are typically the secondary players; more often, it's the behavior around them that's the focus," Cobb said.

And the Prince George's corruption case might have gone into the realm of ho-hum political corruption cases, remaining in the world of local politics.

Except for one thing.

If only the affidavit said something like: Jack Johnson replied, "Put it in your purse and walk out or something," Leslie Johnson and her cross-your-heart wouldn't be so famous right now. Like Monica Lewinsky's cigar and Oliver North's documents stuffed into Fawn Hall's boots, there is something titillating about this scandal - that bra.

"There's something more interesting here. It wasn't cash money in a man's drawers or money in the freezer," a la Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), Cobb said.

The case has been blogged and twittered. Everywhere I went over the weekend, from soccer in D.C., shopping in Virginia and picnicking in Maryland, everyone started with the same thing: "The bra!"

Online, our readers asked:

"I'm drawn to the question like a moth to a flame: What size bra could possibly contain the usual 'cargo' as well as around 800 hundred-dollar bank notes?"

The Post embarked on answering that question with a mathematical equation that discerned the wad of cash in question would be about three inches thick.

No problem for any gal who had the help of Mr. Kleenex on prom night.

But really, ladies, isn't it time for us to stop stuffing our bras for the men? Maybe not so feminist after all.

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