Top D.C. area official indicted on corruption charges

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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.

Prince George's County top elected official was indicted for bribery, extortion and other corruption charges.

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.

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Former Mich. State Rep. Mary Waters backtracks on corruption guilty plea

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After pleading guilty last year in a corruption case involving her then-boyfriend, convicted Detroit political consultant Sam Riddle, former politician state Rep. Mary Waters has changed her mind and wants the plea reversed.

Waters, 55, pleaded guilty for her role in a bribery case in which Riddle allegedly took $45,000 in cash, and a $5,500 Breitling watch, for his help in getting an approval from the city of Southfield, Michigan, for the relocation of a jewelry store and pawnshop. As part of the arrangement, Waters received a $6,000 Rolex watch.

A Southfield city councilman, William Lattimore, was paid a $12,500 bribe by the couple to push the approval through Southfield city council.

Waters and Riddle were indicted in July 2009 by a grand jury investigating widespread corruption in Kwame Kilpatrick’s city hall administration.

Riddle pleaded guilty to charges of bribery and extortion, and is serving a 37-month sentence in federal prison.

As part of a plea deal, Waters claimed the Rolex was a gift from Riddle, and plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of filing a false tax return. She was sentenced to one year’s probation.

Waters filed a brief on Friday claiming her Constitutional rights were violated, and wants the plea arrangement overturned.

In the court papers, Waters court-appointed lawyer, Melvin Houston, said that her Six Amendment rights to effective legal representation were violated, that U.S. District Judge Marianne O. Battani failed to establish a factual basis for her guilty plea and it was unfair to make her guilty plea part of an overall plea deal involving Riddle.

The legal brief asks that the conviction be set aside, and for a new plea and sentencing hearing.

Information from: The Detroit News

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Corruption trial begins for former New Orleans politician Gill Pratt

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Former New Orleans councilwoman and Louisiana state rep. Renee Gill Pratt is heading to court this week in her racketeering and corruption trial. Gill Pratt is accused of conspiring with several family members of her mentor, U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, to loot three bogus non-profits they controlled of more than $1 million in taxpayer monies.

Gill Pratt, 56, was a member of the state House from 1991 to 2002 and a New Orleans councilwoman from 2002 through 2006.

She is accused of helping secure $1 million in public funds for three bogus non-profits, which then distributed the monies to members of former U.S Rep. William Jefferson's family.

Two principal figures in the scheme, Jefferson’s sister Betty Johnson and her daughter, Angela Coleman, pleaded guilty last year to charges of mail fraud, money laundering, tax evasion and aggravated identity theft. Both women are expected to be the prosecutor’s key witnesses against Gill Pratt.

Another defendant in the conspiracy, Mose Jefferson, brother to Betty and William, is currently serving a ten-year prison sentence on a bribery conviction in another case. Mose is also the former boyfriend of Gill Pratt.

The case covers a period of 15 years, during which the defendants, described collectively by prosecutors as a “criminal enterprise,” obtained government funds for non-profits to benefit the poor, and then diverted the funds for their own use. Authorities say that Gill Pratt’s lead role was to obtain city and state funding for the non-profits. She is also accused of helping launder the monies.

Once William Jefferson and Gill Pratt steered the public funds to the non-profits, Betty Jefferson, Coleman, and Jefferson sister Brenda Foster, now deceased, wrote checks to themselves, family members and companies they controlled. In some instances, funds were used to bankroll improvements on properties owned by family members.

Prosecutors also accused Gill Pratt of corruption charges for misusing city vehicles and defrauding taxpayers on rents she paid for a satellite office in a building owned by Mose Jefferson.

After Hurricane Katrina, DaimlerChrysler donate vehicles to the city for its recovery efforts, and Gill Pratt claimed four of them as her own. The vehicles were used personally by Gill Pratt, Mose Jefferson and other relatives and friends, even though they all knew the vehicles were to be used exclusively for the recovery effort.

When she lost her bid for another term in city council in May 2006, Gill Pratt transferred the titles in all the vehicles to Care Unlimited and another bogus non-profit controlled by the Jeffersons. After the matter became public, she bowed to public outrage and returned all the vehicles.

While she was a councilwoman, prosecutors accused Gill Pratt of using city funds to rent a satellite office in a building secretly owned by Mose Jefferson. Over a three year period, she paid over $70,000 to rent one of the eight suites in the building, even though Jefferson had only paid $10,000 to purchase the entire building.

If convicted, Gill Pratt could get up to 20 years in prison.

In November 2009, William Jefferson was sentenced to 13 years in prison on a bribery conviction, the longest sentence ever handed down to a congressman for any type of crime. He is free on bail while appealing the conviction.

Information from: The Times-Picayune

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Florida politician arrested on corruption charges for aiding developer

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The former vice mayor of Fort Lauderdale, Cindi Hutchinson, 53, was arrested on Friday and charged with corruption in trading political favors for over $14,000 of gifts from a real estate developer seeking zoning changes.

Broward County prosecutors charged Hutchinson with three counts of unlawful compensation, four counts of official misconduct, and one count each of grand theft, petty theft, conspiracy to commit unlawful compensation, and perjury.

The charges center on Hutchinson’s involvement in the rezoning of land owned by controversial developer Glenn Wright, in 2003 and 2004. At the time, Wright was seeking a zoning change on land that would enable him to build large luxury-style homes in an area that was near much smaller homes.

While Hutchinson was serving on the city commission that was responsible for granting the approvals, prosecutors say that Wright’s business partner, Steve Goldstrom, ordered subcontractors to make improvements at the Edgewood home shared by Hutchinson and her mother.

Goldstrom, 54, a former manager of exotic car business, The Toy Store, was also arrested on Friday and charged with one count of perjury.

Authorities say that subcontractors installed a new toilet, a surround sound system, special pool lighting, fencing, pavers and performed air conditioning repair work.  The improvements were done after Hutchinson voted to grant Wright the zoning changes on his La Preserve and Georgian Oaks developments.

Prosecutors said that when investigators asked about the work done at her home, she lied about it and denied knowing any of Wright’s business associates.

Bruce Udolf, Hutchinson’s lawyer, said she will fight the charges. “Any work that was done was a personal favor between friends and there was absolutely no quid pro quo. Any favors that were done for her by her friends were not given in exchange for an official act.”

Hutchinson, a registered Democrat, was on the city commission for nine years until she termed out in March 2009. While on the commission, critics said that she used her elected position to solicit monies for charity from people that had business with the city. Because of her actions, the city passed a law in 2007 prohibiting elected officials from the practice.

more at The Miami Herald

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Texas officials indicted in Hurricane Ike kickback scheme

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John “Phil” Fitzgerald, 51, a Liberty County judge for 4 years and Herman “Lee” Groce, 62, a Liberty County precinct commissioner for 24 years, were named in a 25-count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury on Jan. 26. Fitzgerald’s brother-in-law, Mark Wayne Miksch, 52, was also charged in the conspiracy.

The indictment charges the men with fraud, kickbacks, bribery and conspiracy, in connection with a fraudulent kickback scheme, using FEMA emergency relief funds obtained by the county after the Sept. 13 2008 Hurricane Ike disaster.

The indictments charge that Fitzgerald and Croce used their political influence to award an inflated $3.2 million debris removal contract to a local business, C & C Lumber, with the understanding that C & C would subcontract approximately $1.6 million of the work to Miksch. From the monies received by Miksch, $611,000 was paid to Fitzgerald in kickbacks, disguised to appear as a legitimate business transactions.

Croce claimed to “audit” the C & C bills for reimbursement by the county, and both Croce and Fitzgerald approved them.

Fitzgerald is also accused of taking a FEMA generator at a critical time when the area had no power, and use it to power his gas station and convenience store in Moss Hill, when most other area businesses were shut down. While others were temporarily out of business, he was able to profit from the disaster.

Joseph C. Hawthorn, an attorney for Fitzgerald released a statement which read, “Judge Fitzgerald has fully cooperated with the investigation, has nothing to hide and has committed no crime. … Had the Government allowed us the opportunity to present our side of the story before seeking an indictment, we are confident there would be no indictment. However, because of their refusal, we will now have to have a trial in this case, at considerable expense to Judge Fitzgerald and the taxpayers, in order for us to tell our side of the story.”

Both Fitzgerald and Croce lost their bids for re-election in November, as part of a near sweep by Republicans taking over Liberty County government.

If convicted, the defendants face up to five years in federal prison for the conspiracy charge and from five to 30 years in federal prison for the additional charges.

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Boston politician Chuck Turner sentenced to 3 years behind bars for bribery

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Former Boston Councilor Chuck Turner, who was convicted in October for taking a $1,000 bribe from an undercover FBI agent in 2008, was sentenced today to three years in prison by U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock.

Turner, 70, could have received a sentence for as much as 35 years, although his defense team asked for no-prison sentence, pointing to his more than 40 years of community service.

Boston Councilor Chuck Turner was sentenced today to 3 years in prison for taking a $1,000 bribe to help secure a liquor license. (photo The Boston Herald)

Turner was caught in an FBI sting, during which he was recorded on video taking a $1,000 bribe from businessman-turned-FBI informant Ronald Wilburn. During his trial, Turner said he didn’t remember if he looked at the cash changing hands and referred to it as a “preacher’s handshake.”

Around the same time, another prominent African American politician was also taken down by Wilburn and the FBI. Former State Senator Diane Wilkerson took $23,500 in bribes for agreeing to help Wilburn obtain a liquor license for a nightclub he was purportedly planning, and for her influence on a property development deal.

Wilkerson pleaded guilty to eight counts of attempted extortion and was sentenced two weeks ago to 3 ½ years in prison.

The Harvard-educated Turner began his career in politics as a community activist in Boston’s South End, fighting for better housing conditions for poor residents. He was first elected to the Boston City Council in 1999 running on the Green-Rainbow ticket, and representing District 7.

Even though he was under indictment for bribery when he ran for re-election in 2009, his popularity with voters helped him easily retain his seat.

After a jury convicted him of bribery, the city council voted him out of his seat earlier this month, but Turner refused to go quietly. Turner filed a civil lawsuit against the city claiming it had no authority to remove him from office.

U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said of the sentencing, “Mr. Turner was sentenced to prison today because of the choices he made and the actions he took during the course of this case. It is the obligation of every elected official to be ethical and honest, and in this case, Mr. Turner was neither. Public corruption is more than a violation of the law, it erodes the public’s trust in the very system that was designed to protect us.”

In addition to the prison sentence, the Judge Woodlock ordered Turner to return the $1,000 bribe monies.

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Feds sue Kilpatrick associate for $16.4 million

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Federal prosecutors filed forfeiture papers over the weekend, seeking more than $16.4 million from Bobby Ferguson, the contractor friend of ex-mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Ferguson was indicted in September on charges of bid-rigging a $12 million contract connected to a Detroit affordable housing development.

Officials are looking to recover more than $3.9 million in cash, checks and certificates of deposit seized or frozen by authorities, as well as two handguns and ammunition.

In addition, if Ferguson and his co-defendants are convicted, the government wants damages of $12.5 million, the amount they received on the bid-rigged housing contract.

Ferguson’s co-defendants are all executives at companies owned by Ferguson, and include Shakib Deria, vice president of A&F Environmental/Johnson Construction Services; Michael Woodhouse, president of Xcel Construction and Calvin Hall, vice president of Xcel Construction.

Separately, in December, Ferguson was indicted on charges of extortion, bribery and fraud over construction contracts involving city sewer and water main work, in which millions of dollars were diverted to Ferguson, Kilpatrick’s father and other city hall insiders.

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