The former top elected official of Prince George’s County, Maryland, part of the Washington D.C. metro area, was indicted Monday in federal court on eight charges, including extortion, bribery, witness and evidence tampering and conspiracy.
Jack B. Johnson, 61, the former County Executive from 2002 through 2010, was arrested on November 12 after FBI raided his home and found evidence that he had received bribes from a real estate developer.
The raid on his home was triggered when agents, who had wire-tapped his phone, heard a conversation between Johnson and his wife Leslie, instructing her to destroy a check for $100,000 that was paid as part of a bribe by a developer. When agents arrived at their home, she had already flushed the check down the toilet, but had $79,600 stashed in her bra.
Leslie Johnson, a just-elected Prince George’s County councilwoman, was arrested for evidence tampering, but was not named in the current indictment.
The 31-page indictment said that Johnson and others in his administration ran a pay-for-play operation and regularly demanded bribes, including cash, checks, airline tickets, mortgage payments, rounds of golf and more, from individuals and companies wanting to do business within the county.
The document provided details on a shakedown that Johnson and county housing director James Johnson, who is unrelated, were planning, that involved an affordable-housing real estate developer who had been paying kickbacks since 2007.
In a recorded conversation, the two men discussed steering a $1.5 million federal funds grant to the developer, for which they would receive a $500,000 kickback. Jack Johnson was planning on taking $300,000 of it, with $200,000 going to James Johnson.
The indictment also alleges that in a previous transaction, county executives steered a $1 million affordable housing grant to the same developer, who paid $200,000 of it to Johnson.
Prosecutors say that Johnson was the king-pin in a wide ranging culture of corruption that ran deep through county offices and the business community. In 2006, investigators began looking into the activities of real estate developers who they said, “were regularly providing things of value” to county officials for help getting projects approved, and to qualify for affordable housing grants.
Johnson’s administration had been long criticized for corruption and cronyism since he was elected in 2002, although he was a popular figure locally, taking credit for raising the county’s bond ratings on Wall Street and improving emergency services.
After his first four-year term in office, a Washington Post investigation showed that Johnson had given 51 county contracts to friends and allies totaling about $3.3 million. The investigation also revealed that Johnson and other officials routinely used county-issued credit cards for personal charges. Since then, measures have been put in place requiring regular audit of the accounts.
Prior to his post as County Executive, Johnson was elected for two terms as County Prosecutor. If convicted on all counts, he faces decades behind bars.