JACK B. JOHNSON, the former Prince George’s county executive convicted on corruption charges, is on his way to prison for the next seven years. Unfortunately, that’s not quite the end of the story. Under Mr. Johnson’s administration, county government was for sale, a state of affairs that tainted many others. The extent of that taint may continue to surprise county officials trying to combat it.
Court papers filed by federal prosecutors before Mr. Johnson’s sentencing last week, and that of his wife, Leslie (who got one year in prison), present a blizzard of evidence, taken from wiretapped conversations, of the breadth of his unsavory dealings and their capacity to co-opt others.
One example involves his efforts two years ago to force Prince George’s Hospital Center to hire a doctor connected to Mirza Hussein Baig, a developer who supplied Mr. Johnson with a stream of bribes in return for favors. Mr. Baig gave Mr. Johnson a $50,000 cashier’s check to get the job done, but it proved no easy task. Not only had the hospital received more than 2,000 applications for 15 physician openings, but the applicant in question had flunked several tests or barely passed them; she ranked in the lowest 1 percent of qualified applicants.
“Offer the lady a slot, [expletive]!” Mr. Johnson told a senior hospital official, in a conversation intercepted by federal agents. The hospital official assured Mr. Johnson that the problem would be taken care of, and apparently it was; the doctor was hired.
That transaction, and others like it, present officials with a dilemma. Should the hospital officials who succumbed to Mr. Johnson’s bullying be disciplined? Is Prince George’s stuck with the detritus of Mr. Johnson’s dirty deals?
The federal wiretaps make clear that Mr. Johnson spent an inordinate amount of time in 2010, his last year in office, arranging contracts and business deals for himself. In reality, these were sinecures, which he hoped would allow him to cash in without doing any real work. (“Well, it will probably just be a contract somewhere,” Mr. Johnson said bluntly in another conversation with a hospital official. “I don’t want no job.”)
Mr. Johnson’s successor, Rushern Baker, is intent on determining who was caught up in Mr. Johnson’s web. His administration is relying on information as it is made public by prosecutors, who say their investigation is continuing.
Already, the county has severed a contract with one money-management firm. At Prince George’s Hospital Center, the board has placed the hospital’s chief executive, Ken Glover, on paid leave and has hired an outside investigator to determine what role, if any, he or others may have had in abetting Mr. Johnson’s attempts to feather his nest. (Mr. Glover told The Post’s Miranda S. Spivack and Ovetta Wiggins last week that no deals “matured.”)
These are appropriately aggressive steps. Mr. Johnson’s legacy was not only about soliciting bribes in return for steering and awarding contracts, permits and jobs, as outlined in the court papers filed by prosecutors. It was also about implanting an unethical culture of business and politics in Prince George’s. While the Johnsons and some of their cohorts are gone, the culture will be harder to uproot.