Johnson, former Prince George's county executive, charged with taking $200,000 in bribes

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.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, February 14, 2011; 10:58 PM

Former Prince George's County executive Jack B. Johnson accepted more than $200,000 in bribes and played a central role in a broad corruption conspiracy that involved other county officials, candidates for public office and at least three developers or business leaders, federal officials alleged in new charges filed Monday.

A 31-page indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt charges Johnson for the first time with soliciting and accepting bribes. It comes three months after Johnson and his wife, Leslie Johnson, were arrested at their home and accused of conspiring to hide $79,600 in cash in Leslie Johnson's bra and flush a $100,000 check from a developer down the toilet.

Monday's indictment outlines in detail the scope of the government's corruption probe in Prince George's and alleges how much money Johnson got from developers and what he did in return.

The indictment alleges that the conspiracy lasted from 2003 until November, almost through Johnson's eight years in office. It describes a pay-to-play atmosphere in Prince George's during his tenure and quotes the former county executive in wiretaps talking about shaking down developers seeking federal housing money and demanding donations for his wife's campaign for a seat on the County Council.

Jack Johnson, 61, said Monday in a written statement that his attorney advised him not to comment and that "the time to talk is in court and not in the press."

"I would hope that the people of Prince George's County and elsewhere recognize the growth and progress that occurred during my administration," he wrote. His attorney, Billy Martin, said that the indictment "seriously mischaracterizes" Johnson's tenure and that his client will continue to fight the government's allegations.

Johnson is the only person charged in the indictment, but other public officials and businesspeople are described as co-conspirators. Two are listed by name: Leslie Johnson and liquor store owner Amrik Melhi, who was charged in November in a scheme to distribute black-market alcohol and cigarettes.

The indictment also alleges that Johnson conspired with two unnamed developers and an unnamed candidate for public office and that Johnson's housing director took thousands in bribes from developers. That official is not named, but James Johnson, who is not related to the county executive, held the position. James Johnson had not been charged. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

Jack Johnson, the county's former top prosecutor, is accused of rewarding those who bribed him by steering millions of dollars in federal grant money, influencing the business-permitting process and using his authority to get people jobs.

He accepted money, trip expenses, airline tickets, rounds of golf, mortgage payments and in-kind campaign contributions in return for official favors, the indictment alleges.

Johnson's indictment is the latest blow to a county roiled by a federal probe of corruption that U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein on Monday called "long-standing and widespread." He said he expects additional charges.

"Pay-to-play government is not democratic government," Rosenstein said in a statement. "Government employees flagrantly abuse the public trust when they take money in return for official acts."

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