Former Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson pled guilty on May 17 to extortion and witness and evidence tampering charges at U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Jack Johnson admitted to several things reported in the original affidavit including taking the $100,000 check from Baig and telling his wife, Prince George’s Councilwoman Leslie Johnson to rip that check up and hide $79,600 in cash in her underwear when federal agents knocked on the door of their Mitchellville home.

Johnson was flanked by several clergymen as he exited the hearing including Rev. Jonathan L. Weaver of Greater Mt. Nebo Church in Bowie and Anthony Evans, pastor at Mount Zion Baptist Church and president of the National Black Church Initiative.

Johnson said the trial had been taxing on his family both emotionally and financially so he thought it was time to accept responsibility for his actions.

The plea deal was termed a “milestone not a goldmine” by U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein. He said Johnson fostered a pay-to-play culture, of which he said combating was like “pulling weeds.”

“Electing and appointing men and women of good character is important,” said Rosenstein. “But the key to honest government is to create a culture of integrity by establishing checks and balances that promote accountability. People who seek government benefits or approvals deserve to be evaluated on the merits, without being extorted or losing out to competitors who pay bribes.”

Rosenstein wasn’t the only person who took offense to Jackson’s action. Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker chimed in saying that the play reminds all officials of their responsibility to the public. “As unfortunate as the incidents of the past were, we are restoring our reputation as a preeminent jurisdiction,” Baker said in a statement. “We are moving forward with integrity and we have a great opportunity to redefine our way of doing business in order to grow the county and fuel the jurisdiction with the greatest potential in the entire metropolitan region.”

Despite the agreement, the two sides couldn’t agree on sentencing guidelines. U.S. attorneys say that the sentencing range should be between 11-13 years.?
In addition to Johnson, three other plea agreements were unsealed in connection with the case. Former Prince George’s County Director of Housing and Community Development James Johnson, known as Public Official A in Johnson’s indictment; Dr. Mirza Baig, a former business associate of Johnson’s, known as Developer A and Patrick Ricker, a former real estate agent in the county.

James Johnson and Baig both plead guilty to one count of conspiracy each. James and Jack Johnson received between $400,000 to $1 million in bribes in connection with the conspiracy.

Baig was the beneficiary of HOME Investment Partnership funding for an 11-home development in 2005, but defaulted on his obligation to “maintain the project in a decent, safe, and sanitary condition according to a letter from HUD.

After Baig attempted to sell the property, a deal was brokered by Johnson to allow Baig to keep the property in a partnership with Roots of Mankind, a non-profit housing counseling service based in Temple Hills.

Ricker circumvented federal and state election regulations to provide money to political candidates through friends and family. Some of the contributions went to candidates for U.S. Senate. He also pled guilty to tax evasion.

U.S. attorneys said that Jack Johnson’s plea agreement has no bearing on the trial of his wife.

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO