Johnson pleads guilty to extortion, evidence tampering
Sentencing for former county executive scheduled for Sept. 15
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This story was corrected on May 18, 2011. An explanation follows the story.
Former Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to one count of extortion and one count of evidence and witness tampering related to allegations that he took more than $200,000 from developers in exchange for help getting grant money.
"I just want to say to the people of the county, I'm very sorry for what happened, but we have all sinned and fallen short in the ways of the Lord," Johnson said at a press conference.
Johnson, 62, the two-term county executive who was arrested Nov. 12 on eight counts, is scheduled for sentencing Sept. 15. He must forfeit money prosecutors allege that he acquired illegally while in office, according to the agreement.
The agreement does not include mention of a deal for Johnson's wife, County Councilwoman Leslie Johnson (D-Dist. 6) of Mitchellville. She continues to face her own charges of witness and evidence tampering in relation to the case. She has yet to plead to the charges.
She was charged alongside her husband with witness and evidence tampering for allegedly helping to destroy a check and cash related to the claims against her husband.
The government is seeking to have Jack Johnson serve 11 to 13 years in jail, said U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein on Tuesday after the plea. He could get a maximum of 20 years in jail and $250,000 in fines, according to prosecutors, who said there is a dispute over how much money Johnson should pay in fines.
Billy Martin, Jack Johnson's attorney, said they plan to argue for leniency at the sentencing.
"We'd like to paint a better and more complete picture for you," Martin told the judge.
If he had been convicted, Johnson faced up to five years in jail for the conspiracy charge, a $250,000 fine; up to 20 years in prison for each of the three counts of extortion; up to 10 years and another $250,000 for each of the three counts of bribery; and up to 20 years on charges of witness and evidence tampering.
Prior to serving as county executive from 2002 to 2010, Johnson served as the county state's attorney from 1994 to 2002. Running on promises to transform the county into "Gorgeous Prince George's," Johnson enjoyed high popularity among residents through both terms. Using money from the county's then-booming real estate market, Johnson spurred investments in new schools and hired nearly 150 new police officers every year, reduced overall crime and saw gains on state test scores. Polls from last summer showed more than 50 percent of residents reported positive ratings of the executive.
But prosecutors allege that Johnson's activities behind the scenes as executive included political favors for developers and friends. When he was indicted in February, prosecutors wrote in papers that Johnson used his position to solicit illegal campaign donations for friends and his wife, and routinely pressured allies for perks such as golf trips, cash, plane tickets and other items.
Most of Johnson's current charges concern his last year in office, when federal agents began wire-tapping his telephone. Court papers show numerous conversations where Johnson allegedly pressured developers to raise money and pay him and his friends for government consideration on major projects.
"I'm trying to line up some stuff for myself man, that's what I need," he was allegedly taped saying in May 2010.
Johnson previously pleaded not guilty at a March 15 hearing where he pledged to fight the charges.
Correction: Johnson pleaded guilty to extortion and evidence tampering.