Former Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson Sentenced to Over Seven Years in Federal Prison for Federal Extortion and Bribery
In Taking Over $1.6 Million in Bribes, “Defendant Acted as if Corruption was the Normal Way of Doing Business”
|U.S. Attorney’s Office December 06, 2011|
GREENBELT, MD—U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte sentenced former Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson, age 62, of Mitchellville, Maryland, today to 87 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for his leadership role in an extortion conspiracy wherein in exchange for bribes, Jack Johnson corruptly used his public office to engage in fraudulent actions including steering millions of dollars in federal and local funds to favored developers; and tampering with a witness and evidence. Judge Messitte also ordered that Jack Johnson pay a $100,000 fine and forfeit $78,000 and an antique Mercedes Benz.
The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge Richard A. McFeely of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Acting Special Agent in Charge Jeannine A. Hammett of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, Washington, D.C. Field Office.
“Jack Johnson could have been a role model for integrity, but he chose to be a poster child for greed,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. “The facts of this case read like a dime novel because the defendant acted as if corruption was the normal way of doing business. It is our responsibility to prove him wrong.”
“Identifying and investigating public corruption remains one of our highest priorities,” stated FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard A. McFeely. “We hope today’s sentencing reaffirms the federal government’s proactive stance to stamp out corruption by those elected officials who have betrayed the public trust.”
“Public officials, whether elected or appointed, hold positions of trust in the eyes of the public. That trust is broken when these officials commit crimes,” said Acting IRS Special Agent in Charge Jeannine Hammett. “Today’s sentencing sends a clear message that no public official gets a free pass to ignore the laws.”
Jack Johnson was Prince George’s County Executive from 2002 to December 2010. Prior to 2002, Jack Johnson was the county’s State’s Attorney, and spent nearly a decade as an attorney for the IRS Office of Chief Counsel.
In September 2009, Jack Johnson appointed James Johnson to serve as the Director of DHCD, which administered the HOME Investment Partnerships program to provide federal grants to states and localities to fund the construction, purchase and/or rehabilitation of affordable housing for rent or home-ownership. Patrick Ricker is a developer in Prince George’s County, and had an interest in Greenbelt Metropark, which sought to build a mixed-use project near the Greenbelt Metro Station, called Greenbelt Station. Mirza Baig is a physician and a commercial and residential developer in the County since at least 1992. Leslie Johnson was an elected County Councilwoman and Jack Johnson’s wife.
According to Jack Johnson’s guilty plea and court documents, from 2003 through at least November 12, 2010, Jack Johnson orchestrated a conspiracy in which Baig, Ricker and other business persons offered bribes, including money, trip expenses, meals, drinks, hotel rooms, airline tickets, rounds of golf, employment, mortgage payments, and monetary and in-kind campaign contributions to Jack and James Johnson and other state and local government officials. Baig and James Johnson pleaded guilty to being part of the conspiracy from 2006 through 2010, and Ricker pleaded guilty to being part of the conspiracy from about 1997 through at least September 11, 2008. According to court documents, the amount of bribes extorted by Jack Johnson and his co-conspirators total over $1.6 million.
In exchange for the bribes, Jack Johnson, James Johnson, and other County officials performed and agreed to perform favorable official actions for Baig, Ricker and other developers, business owners and their companies. The official acts included obtaining a waiver of a HOME Program regulation, securing millions of dollars in HOME funds; assisting in the acquisition of surplus property and land from the County for development by certain developers, including Baig and Ricker; providing the conspirators with non-public County information; obtaining necessary state and local approvals and permits for certain developments and businesses in the County, including Greenbelt Station, one of Ricker’s projects; obtaining employment with the County; obtaining management rights for County bond funds; obtaining County funding for certain developments and businesses in the County; assisting with state and County legislation regarding liquor store hours; influencing certain County officials to approve and/or facilitate County business; and, securing County commitments to lease property from certain developers at developments in the County. According to court documents, the value of the benefits received by the individuals paying the bribes totaled $10,098,496.
According to court documents, Jack Johnson intended to continue his corrupt scheme after his term of office ended, through his wife’s new position on the County Council and through other candidates for county offices. In meetings with Baig which were recorded by the FBI, Jack Johnson is heard promising to have Leslie Johnson use her position on the County Council to “take care of things” for Baig. Jack Johnson was also overheard in recorded conversations with county officials, a lobbyist, a developer and other business owners to extort donations for Leslie Johnson’s campaign for a county council seat and another candidate’s campaign for county executive. During the course of the scheme, Jack Johnson also regularly sought payments and employment that were to be awarded to him once he left office, in return for Jack Johnson providing official assistance while he was still county executive.
Additionally, just prior to his arrest on November 12, 2010, Jack Johnson and his wife Leslie Johnson exchanged a series of telephone calls. During one of those calls, as federal agents were knocking on the door of Johnsons’ home to execute a search warrant, Jack told Leslie to destroy the $100,000 check provided to him by Baig and to hide cash that he had hidden in their home. Specifically, Jack Johnson told Leslie to flush the check down the toilet and hide the cash in her underwear. Federal agents entered the home and recovered approximately $79,600 from Leslie who had hidden the cash in her underwear.
Leslie Johnson pleaded guilty on June 30, 2011 to conspiracy to commit witness and evidence tampering in order to obstruct a federal corruption investigation. As part of her plea agreement, Leslie Johnson will forfeit proceeds of the scheme, including $79,600 in cash. She faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine at her sentencing scheduled for December 9, 2011 at 10:30 a.m.
Former Director of the Prince George’s County Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) James Edward Johnson, age 66, of Temple Hills, Maryland, pleaded guilty on January 28, 2011 to conspiracy to commit extortion. James Johnson and Jack Johnson are not related. Dr. Mirza Hussain Baig, age 67, of Burtonsville, Maryland, pleaded guilty on April 11, 2011 to conspiracy to commit extortion in connection with paying bribes to Jack Johnson and James Johnson. Patrick Q. Ricker, age 52, of Bowie, Maryland, pleaded guilty on December 30, 2009 to conspiring to commit honest services fraud and to make false statements to the Federal Election Commission; and to tax evasion.
James Johnson and Mirza Baig face a maximum sentence of five years in prison for the conspiracy to commit extortion at their sentencing scheduled for March 12 and 19, 2012, respectively. Patrick Ricker faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for honest services fraud, false statements conspiracy and tax evasion at his sentencing scheduled for March 23, 2012.
A total of 15 defendants have been convicted to date in the related investigations of corruption in Prince George’s County.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the FBI and IRS-CI for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorneys James A. Crowell IV, A. David Copperthite, Sujit Raman and Christen A. Sproule, who are prosecuting these cases.