An apologetic former Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to corruption charges.

“I want to apologize to you for being here and giving up your time,” Johnson said to U.S. Judge Peter Messitte. “I want to apologize to the people of Prince George’s County. I want to apologize to all the young people that look up to me at the universities and I want to apologize to my family, especially my wife.

Reaction to the sentencing has already begun to pour in as Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker released a statement saying he is praying for the Johnson family, but won’t stand for these actions in county government.

“Any future developments that arise from this case will be examined and investigated by the Prince George’s County government, Baker said. “Yes we are moving forward, but I will not tolerate any person or entity slowing down our march to greatness.”

Neither Johnson nor his attorney, Billy Martin, spoke following the hearing, but he tried to defend himself before the judge handed down his sentence. The two tried to make the case that this was about Johnson’s relationship with Dr. Mirza Baig, a developer who’s also pled guilty in conjunction with the case.

“I’m not trying to diminish, in any way, the crime that has occurred, but this case is primarily about the relationship between Jack B. Johnson and his doctor, Dr. Baig,” Martin said.

“So when you talk about expanding this to pay-to-play; clearly Mr. Johnson accepted a bribe for doing one or more things for Dr. Baig, but I think we’re over-emphasizing and over-prescribing the process here in the county as pay-to-play,” he continued.

However, that explanation carried no weight in a courtroom after the 76-page sentencing memorandum outlined Johnson’s eight years of bribery involving more than just developers to the tune of close to $1.6 million and cushy post-executive jobs.

Martin also read a letter from the Rev. Anthony Evans, president of the National Black Church Initiative, in support of keeping Johnson out of jail. The reading of that letter fell on deaf ears as Messitte said an equal number of people want Johnson to face justice.

“I certainly have received many letters on behalf of your family, Mr. Johnson, and your friends, but at the same time, the news stories, the editorials, the letters to the editor are at least as weighty if not more and there are people in Prince George’s, just not here, who have expressed their real disappointment,” said Messitte.

Under the sentencing guidelines, the range for Johnson’s sentencing was between 7 and 9 years, but prosecutors opted for the lower end because of Johnson’s cooperation in his plea agreement. That cooperation goes toward a continuing investigation that federal authorities remain mum on.

Johnson has requested to serve his time at Butner Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, N.C. for its medical facility and the fact that it is a minimum security prison, housing perpetrators of white collar crimes.

He will be required to serve at least 85 percent of his sentence and will have an additional three years on supervised probation. He was assessed a $100,000 fine and will have to undergo treatment for alcohol abuse. He must turn himself in by Feb. 3, 2012.

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO