Just six months after former Prince George's County executive Jack B. Johnson vowed to fight the federal charges against him, the embattled Mitchellville resident pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court to conspiracy, extortion and witness evidence tampering.
Each federal count carries a maximum 20-year jail sentence and a fine of $250,000. As part of the agreement, Johnson, 62, gave up his right to a trial and the right to an appeal. Rod J. Rosenstein, one of the U.S. attorneys on the case, said his unit would seek jail time for the former county executive. Johnson is scheduled to be sentenced the morning of Sept. 15.
"We all sin and fall short of the glory of the Lord," Johnson told reporters after the court proceedings. He added that this was a very trying time for his family but he is "sustained by the grace of the Lord."
In November, Jack Johnson and his wife — Councilwoman Leslie E. Johnson — were arrested at their Mitchellville home. Jack Johnson could be heard on a federal wiretap telling Leslie to flush a $100,000 check from a developer and hide $79,6000 in her underwear as federal agents knocked on the door.
A statement of facts read by U.S. Attorney James A. Crowell on Tuesday showed that Johnson had orchestrated an elaborate pay-to-play scheme during most of his eight-year tenure as county executive.
From 2003 to Nov. 12, 2010, Johnson conspired with James Johnson, the director of the county's Department of Housing and Community Development at the time; Amrik Singh Melhi, who owns several liquor stores in the state; and Mirza H. Baig, a commercial and residential developer in the county to extort money, trip expenses and campaign contributions.
In exchange for the favors, Johnson used his influence to acquire land for certain developers, obtain the necessary state and local approvals for the developments, and secure county funding for certain businesses.
"It is indeed a sad moment, although we’re here," Billy Martin, Johnson's attorney, told reporters. "Considering the evidence, Mr. Johnson has accepted the responsibility of what he has done."
Leslie Johnson also faces conspiracy charges in the case. Rosenstein said her case is still pending. She attended a county council meeting Tuesday at the time of her husband's plea and left the building through a back entrance without comment. Her district includes South Bowie, Capitol Heights, District Heights, Forestville, Kettering, Largo, Mitchellville and Upper Marlboro.
The FBI is also pursuing other criminal activity, but Rosenstein did not name anyone else since they have not been charged.
“Today’s guilty plea represents a milestone in this investigation," he told reporters. “In America, government serves the people, not the politicians. I hope this sends a powerful message to offenders that we can catch you, and we will hold you accountable."
Patch was on the scene during today's proceedings. For a detailed account of today's events, please read the timeline below.
Update, 3 p.m.: Rod Rosenstein, one of the U.S. attorneys on the case, also spoke to reporters outside of the courtroom.
“Today’s guilty plea represents a milestone in this investigation," he said. “In America, government serves the people, not the politicians.”
He characterized Johnson's actions as being part of a pay-to-play scheme that lasted from 2003 to 2010 and involved money for government jobs and leases for private property.
Rosenstein stressed that the investigation is ongoing and that the FBI is still looking into criminal activity in the county. Leslie E. Johnson's case is still pending, he added.
Each of the two counts that Johnson pleaded to carries up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 maximum fine.
Rosenstein also said that it’s essential that they seek the prison sentence in order to act as a deterrent for the future.
"I hope this sends a powerful message to offenders that we can catch you, and we will hold you accountable," Rosenstein said.
Update, 2:10 p.m.: Outside the courtroom after the guilty plea, both Jack B. Johnson and his lawyer, Billy Martin, spoke to the reporters who had assembled.
Martin spoke first:
"It is indeed a sad moment, although we’re here. Considering the evidence, Mr. Johnson has accepted the responsibility of what he has done."
Martin also said that he advised Johnson not to address the facts of the case.
Johnson spoke next, first thanking his pastor from the Greater Mt. Nebo AME Church:
"I wish I could talk more about this case. I will do so in the future," he said. "Right now, these procedures are ongoing."
He added that this was a very trying time for his family and that he is "sustained by the grace of the Lord."
"We all sin and fall short of the glory of the Lord," he said.
When a reporter from the crowd asked Johnson why he had committed these acts, Martin stepped in front of the microphone to say they were going to report to probation.
Johnson's wife, Leslie Johnson, a Prince George's County Council member, also faces conspiracy charges in the case. She was caught trying to stuff more than $79,000 in her undergarments as federal agents arrived at the Johnson home in Mitchellville last November, according to the charges.
Leslie Johnson was in a county council meeting Tuesday at the time of her husband's plea and left the building through a back entrance without comment. Her district includes South Bowie, Capitol Heights, District Heights, Forestville, Kettering, Largo, Mitchellville and Upper Marlboro.
Update, 1:40 p.m.: Jack B. Johnson seemed to hesitate when asked by a federal judge whether he was threatened or coerced to plead guilty.
U.S. attorneys read a statement of facts, which included information about the $5,000 check and $79,600 in cash found on the Johnsons during their November arrest. Johnson did not dispute these facts.
Johnson's lawyer, Billy Martin, asked the judge to extend his 45-day sentencing timeline because he has another trial to prepare for. The judge agreed.
Johnson is scheduled to be sentenced officially the morning of Sept. 15.
Update, 1:30 p.m.: Under the plea deal, former County Executive Jack B. Johnson admitted he committed the offenses and has given up his right to a trial. Each count carries a 20-year sentence.
Update, 1 p.m.: Former County Executive Jack B. Johnson has pleaded guilty to one count of extortion and one count of evidence tampering in federal court Tuesday.
Six other counts against him will be dropped, according to WJLA.com.
Update, 12:30 p.m.: Former County Executive Jack B. Johnson arrived at the federal courthouse in Greenbelt just before noon in a black SUV with several supporters in tow.
He walked to the front entrance, where he was met by about 20 reporters, photographers and camera men. Among his entourage were his lawyer Billy Martin and Rev. Jonathan Weaver of the Greater Mt. Nebo AME Church in Bowie.
"We want to talk to you, Jack," one reporter called out to Johnson. Another said, "The people of Prince George's County want to hear from you."
Despite their pleas, Johnson remained silent and walked into the courthouse. He arrived inside the courtroom around 11:55 a.m., with several reporters crowding him as he entered the building.
The courtroom is packed with attorneys, reporters and family members. Before the proceedings, which began just before 12:30 p.m., Johnson made brief rounds throughout the courtroom, shaking the hands of supporters and acquaintances.
Original post, 12:15 p.m.: Former County Executive Jack B. Johnson has arrived at the federal courthouse in Greenbelt.
A bevy of reporters and photographers were waiting for him, as it is possible that he will plead guilty today, based on reports from ABC7 News. He and his wife, Councilwoman Leslie E. Johnson, were arrested at their home in November. He faces charges of bribery and extortion.