Jack Johnson served as Prince George's County Executive for eight years. On Tuesday, a federal judge sentenced Johnson to just over seven years in prison.
Johnson pleaded guilty in May to two charges of corruption stemming from his actions as the county's chief elected official. Federal guidelines called for 11 to 14 years in prison for the charges.
The judge ruled Tuesday that Johnson would spend 87 months in custody, and then be under three years of supervised release. In addition, he must pay a $100,000 fine, forfeit $78,000 and an antique Mercedes Benz (reportedly worth about $60,000, according to prosecutors), and undergo alcohol treatment. Since this is a federal sentence, there will be no early release.
“Jack Johnson could have been a role model for integrity, but he chose to be a poster child for greed,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. “The facts of this case read like a dime novel because the defendant acted as if corruption was the normal way of doing business. It is our responsibility to prove him wrong.”
In handing down a sentence several years short of the federal guidelines, Judge Peter Messitte said that Johnson had shown that he had taken responsibility for the crimes by pleading guilty and by cooperating with investigators.
Johnson entered the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. walking with the aid of a cane.
Lawyers for Johnson requested a downward departure, asking Messitte for a sentence short of the federally established minimum. Defense attorneys said Johnson has Parkinson's disease, and because of that condition, and his age, 62, he should be spared extended jail time. Johnson's attorney said a long prison term would amount to a death sentence.
In response, prosecutors disputed the claim that Johnson suffered from Parkinson's, saying this condition had not been previously reported. In fact, lawyers with the U.S. Attorney office said they have photos of Jackson playing golf recently, lifting a bag full of clubs. Prosecutors said if Johnson exhibited any signs of poor health, it could be linked to drinking alcohol.
The U.S. Attorney argued that even if Johnson does suffer from the disease, he could receive adequate medical treatment in prison.
Speaking before the court, Johnson said, "I've lost everything. My reputation, all the things that I've worked for." He apologized to the residents of Prince George's County and to his wife, Leslie. Addressing Messitte directly, he said, "Judge, I pray that you will be merciful to a very ill man."
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The judge decided to reject the downward departure based on the health concern. Judge Messitte agreed with the U.S. Attorney, saying federal prisons could provide care for a condition like Parkinson's.
Johnson deserved a severe and lengthy prison sentence for orchestrating “one of the most egregious and notorious” corruption schemes in state history, federal prosecutors said in a memorandum filed in late November.
Johnson pleaded guilty in May to extortion, a Hobbs Act violation for obtaining property or services because of his position, and to witness and evidence tampering, for persuading another to destroy evidence.
“Jack Johnson's venality adversely affected everyone who lived, worked and tried to do business in Prince George's County,” prosecutors wrote in the 76-page memo released ahead of the sentencing.
Prosecutors said the disgraced former Prince George's County Executive routinely shook down developers and business owners for between $400,000 and $1 million in bribes and other luxuries.
Johnson could have faced decades in prison if convicted at trial of all charges -- extortion, bribery, conspiracy, and witness and evidence tampering. He was indicted in February on all those charges and had pleaded not guilty at the time.
According to prosecutors, Johnson had been grooming his wife, former Council member Leslie Johnson, to take over the pay-to-play schemes when he left office.
In an audio tape recording of a telephone call released in November, the former county executive can be heard instructing his wife how to hide evidence, as investigators were coming through the front door. "Put cash in your panties and walk out," Johnson says on the tape. Johnson said in court that his wife knew nothing until that day.
Leslie Johnson is due in court for sentencing Friday. She faces 18 months after pleading guilty to evidence tampering.
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, current County Executive Rushern Baker that Prince George's looks forward to moving forward.
"We have worked hard over the past year to restore pride and confidence in the government with our residents, county employees and the business community," Baker said in a release. "I believe that we have made good progress, making it clear that this county is moving forward."
Jack Johnson will begin serving his sentence in about a month. He will be provided treatment for Parkinson's and will participate in an alcohol awareness program in federal prison.