A judge sentenced former Prince George's County Council member Leslie Johnson to one year and one day in prison on Friday despite her plea for leniency. Supporters say the sentence was too harsh.
On Friday, Judge Peter Messitte sentenced Leslie Johnson to one year and one day in prison for her role in a corruption case that shook Prince George's County government.
Handing down the sentence, Messitte told Johnson, "You are not an innocent spouse. You are a complicit spouse."
Johnson, 60, pleaded guilty on June 30 to conspiracy to commit witness and evidence tampering. The charges were connected to a corruption probe that netted her husband, former county executive Jack Johnson. Both Johnsons were arrested on Nov. 12, 2010.
Leslie Johnson's sentencing hearing started at federal court in Greenbelt at 10:30 a.m.
Prosecutors in the Friday morning hearing said Leslie Johnson was not acting out of love for her husband when she was caught trying to hide evidence of his corrupt profits. The prosecution said Leslie Johnson was not just covering up her husband's crimes, but also her own wrongdoing.
The defense countered that Leslie Johnson's criminal acts were isolated incidents, committed to protect Jack Johnson. They argued that she was so busy in her role as a mother that she did not realize where her husband's illegal revenue was coming from. Her attorney said Johnson "would have to be psychic" to know about her husband's pay-to-play schemes. Johnson's lawyers said her "single act of criminal conduct warrants a probationary sentence."
Leslie Johnson, in her statement, told the court that she did not know about the criminal activity her husband was involved in before the FBI broke her door down that November day.
"I take full responsibility for my actions that day and sincerely regret the impact it has had on my family and the community," Johnson told the judge..
Johnson said that she had a 91-year-old mother suffering from dementia who would likely land in a nursing home if she went into prison. She said that she was "sorry and ashamed of her actions," and asked for probation.
"I did not know anything about the criminal conduct that my husband engaged in prior to Nov. 12, 2010," Johnson said. "Had I known, I would hope I would have had the courage to do something about it to avoid this life-threatening ordeal."
After Johnson finished, Judge Messitte spoke. He rejected the defense's claim that Johnson was naive as to her husband's corrupt dealings. Messitte said that it was clear to him that Leslie Johnson knew she was dealing with tainted money.
"Clearly she knew," the judge said. "I cannot accept the explanation that she did not."
He ordered Johnson to serve one year and one day in prison. In addition, she will have to pay a $15,000 fine, perform 240 hours and serve two years of probation. Johnson must report to jail on March 9. She will be eligible for release after 10 months.
"You have to remember who brought this on," Messitte said to Johnson. "You're actions brought this on."
Key to the government's case against her was an audio tape recording of a phone call between Leslie Johnson and her husband. As law enforcement pounded on the door of the couple's Mitchellville home, Jack Johnson told Leslie to hide a check and a large quantity of cash. At her husband's bidding, Leslie flushed a $100,000 check down the toilet and stuffed her underwear with $80,000. Both pieces of evidence were recovered by FBI agents.
Prosecutors said in another taped phone conversation Leslie Johnson expressed certainty that a real estate developer would donate money to her because he knew she would “help him.” Prosecutors wrote that Johnson “intended to devote her assistance as a public official to people who paid for it.”
On Dec. 6, 2010, less than a month after her arrest, Leslie Johnson took the seat as Prince George's County council member that she had won that fall. Johnson resigned from the Council in July.
Under federal guidelines, she faced a sentence between one year and 18 months for the two counts to which she pleaded guilty. She could have faced as many as 20 years in jail for the original charges against her.
On Wednesday, her husband entered his sentencing hearing walking with a cane. Jack Johnson's attorneys told the court he had symptoms of Parkinson's disease and asked for an abbreviated sentence based on his medical condition. Messitte refused to shorten Johnson's sentence based on health concerns, but did shave several years off the mandatory minimum because of his cooperation with prosecutors in the investigation. Jack Johnson will serve 87 months in prison.