Former Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson was indicted on federal bribery, extortion and witness and evidence tampering charges on Feb. 14.

According to the indictment, the 61-year-old Johnson is accused of conspiring – with developers, political candidates, public officials and Amrik Singh Melhi, owner of Tick Tock Liquors in Hyattsville, as well as other liquor stores in the region – to use his influence to produce favorable official actions for the aforementioned parties.

“Pay-to-play government is not democratic government,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein in a statement. “Anyone who seeks benefits or approvals from the government should be evaluated on the merits, without being extorted for payments or losing out to competitors who pay bribes. Government employees flagrantly abuse the public trust when they take money in return for official acts.”

This week’s indictment is the continuation of a saga that began when Johnson was arrested with his wife on Nov. 12 at their Mitchellville home. Three days later, nine other people were arrested in connection with the Johnson probe including Melhi and three Prince George’s police officers.

The indictment says that Johnson along with the head of the county’s Department of Housing and Community Development – called Public Official A – accepted money, trips, expenses, meals, drinks, hotel rooms, airline tickets, rounds of golf, employment, mortgage payments and campaign contributions from Melhi and two other men (Developer A and Developer B). There is substantial information in the indictment taken from wiretapped conversations between Johnson, Public Official A, Developer A and Developer B. At the time of the offenses covered by the indictment, the head of the Department of Housing and Community Development was James Johnson.

One of the more interesting statements came on the day State Sen. Ulysses Currie, D-Dist. 25, was indicted on federal bribery charges. Johnson, in a conversation with Public Official A, urged him to use caution.

“You heard they indicted Uly Currie tonight right?” Johnson asked.

“Yeah, 16 counts,” Public Official A responded.

“Yup, damn, they really … that’s why I was saying man, you know we in these jobs, we got to take … be careful man,” Johnson said. “You know what I’m saying. Be careful boy, be careful.”

Johnson is also documented asking Melhi and other people to donate to his wife’s campaign. In one conversation with a public official in the county he expressed his disappointment with how little money his wife was receiving on the campaign trail.

“And remember they used to be crying all the time and your boy would go and was able to pick things up for them,” he said. “So now it starts coming in automatically right, so they don’t need it anymore. Ok, but you know what? That doesn’t have to continue to happen.

“Tell him you need him to raise money for my wife. Tell him to write a $4,000 check.”

The investigation is continuing and more indictments are expected. Some are expected to include former candidates for public office within the county as well as county council members.

“These charges are the result of a long and complex investigation by the FBI in Prince George’s County. Rooting out corruption is the FBI’s top criminal priority and one we excel at,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard A. McFeely said in a statement. “This investigation will continue to seek out corrupt officials and acts within all levels of Prince George’s County government.”

Johnson faces up to 115 years in prison if convicted.

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO