A federal grand jury indicted former Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson Monday in connection with a "pay-to-play" investigation that led to his arrest in November.
According to the indictment, Johnson and other state and local elected officials accepted campaign contributions above the state legal limits from developers and others in exchange for using their influence favorably. Johnson and other officials allegedly concealed the excess contributions by failing to report them and misrepresenting them.
Billy Martin, an attorney for Johnson, said the record will be set straight in court.
"In light of the events of November 12, 2010, when Mr. Johnson was initially charged in this case and given the extensive ensuing media coverage, it is no surprise that the government has proceeded to return today’s indictment," read a statement from Martin. "Though expected, it is nonetheless disappointing that the government has gone to this extreme by returning an indictment that seriously mischaracterizes Mr. Johnson’s tenure as Prince George’s County Executive. "
The indictment named Amrik Singh Melhi as being among those who allegedly bribed Johnson. Melhi and his wife, Ravinder Melhi, of Howard County, own more than a dozen liquor stores and are accused of paying police to assist in the safe transport and distribution of untaxed cigarettes and alcohol. Three Prince George's County police officers were charged in that case.
According to the indictment, Johnson called Melhi to solicit campaign contributions for his wife and conspired with him to violate campaign finance laws. Edward James Leyden, one of Amrik Melhi's attorneys, declined to comment to the Associated Press Monday on his client's inclusion in the indictment or his dealings with Johnson.
Johnson also helped developers obtain federal grant money from the county for development projects, according to the indictment. In return, Johnson allegedly received cash and checks including a check for $100,000.
The indictment details a series of cash payments to Jack Johnson and James Johnson, the county's former housing director, by two developers who in turn received federal grant money for their projects. Jack and James Johnson are not related.
It is punctuated by frequent, at times colorful quotations from wiretapped phone conversations. Investigators began tapping Jack Johnson's phones in January 2010.
James Johnson, referred to in the indictment as Public Official A, and Jack Johnson are quoted discussing the indictment of another prominent Prince George's official, state Sen. Ulysses Currie, on corruption charges last September.
"You heard that they indicted Uly Currie tonight right?" Jack Johnson said, according to the indictment. "... That's why I was saying man, you know, we, we in these jobs, we gotta take, be careful man. You know what I'm saying. Be careful boy, be careful."
Two days later, in a conversation with another county official, he said that in the wake of the Currie indictment, "Man, I'm not doing s--- between now and um, the rest of the term, right."
Jack Johnson received money from a developer identified as Developer A, including a check for $100,000, a $50,000 cashier's check and a series of cash payments ranging between $3,000 and $15,000, according to the indictment.
The developer also made a series of payments of several thousand dollars each to James Johnson, as did another developer, identified as Developer B, the indictment says.
Jack and James Johnson also discussed shaking down Developer A for an additional $500,000 in exchange for $1.5 million in newly available funds through the federal HOME program, which benefits affordable housing developments.
"You and I should get 500 together," Johnson said, according to the indictment, later clarifying that he expected to pocket $300,000 of that total. "If I can get myself about three hundred, um, I'll be in good shape."
James Johnson no longer works for the county and could not be reached for comment Monday.
A final conspirator, according to the indictment, was a candidate for public office identified as Candidate A. Johnson pledged that the candidate would receive "a huge amount of money" from Melhi, other liquor dealers and Developer A, the indictment said.
Authorities said they have recordings of a meeting in which Johnson took $15,000 in cash from a developer. After the meeting, FBI agents entered the room, asked Johnson about the payments and were told the cash was for a party marking the end of his tenure as county executive and that he had no business dealings with the developer.
The FBI then ordered a search warrant for Johnson's home and intercepted phone calls between Johnson and his wife, Leslie Johnson, who has since been sworn in as a county council member. When FBI agents arrived at their home, Leslie Johnson called her husband, who told her not to answer the door, according to an affidavit, and to instead go to their bedroom and get the $100,000 check and some cash. He then told her to put the cash in her underwear and tear up the check, according to the affidavit, and then flush it down a toilet. FBI agents listening to the phone call said they overheard a flushing toilet in the background. When FBI agents finally entered the home, they found about $79,600 on Leslie Johnson when they searched her, according to the FBI.
Jack Johnson is facing charges of conspiracy, extortion and bribery related to his position as county executive and tampering with a witness and evidence. He left office when his second term expired in December.
Jack Johnson said his attorney have advised not to address the charges publicly.
"I would hope that the people of Prince George's County and elsewhere recognize the growth and progress that occurred during my administration," he said.
Leslie Johnson has been charged by criminal complaint with tampering with a witness and evidence relating to the commission of a federal offense; and destruction, alteration and falsification of records in a federal investigation. She has not been indicted. A preliminary hearing was pushed back to March 16 at the defense's request.