- The Washington Times - Monday, December 5, 2011

Former Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson is due to be sentenced in federal court Tuesday, bringing closure to a more than year-long public corruption scandal that broke open the county’s “pay-to-play” political culture.

Johnson, 62, pleaded guilty in May to charges of extortion and witness and evidence tampering and now faces 11 to 14 years in jail under sentencing guidelines. Prosecutors say he solicited $400,000 to $1 million in bribes during his time as county executive, from 2002 until 2010, and that he used his influence to peddle favors to those supportive of his political campaigns and those of wife Leslie, a former County Council member.

Johnson will have his sentence handed down by Judge Peter J. Messitte, whom legal analysts describe as a fair but tough sentencing judge.

“Judge Messitte has a reputation of being a fairly tough sentencer. But I’m sure Jack’s team is going to present mitigating evidence to the court, especially related to positive things that Jack has done over a nearly 30-year-career,” said former county State’s Attorney Glenn F. Ivey, who was elected to the top prosecutor’s post the same year Johnson left the position to run Prince George’s.

The wide-ranging scope of Johnson’s abuse of power became more evident in the last few weeks as prosecutors filed sentencing memorandums that detail jobs that he tried to arrange for himself while still in office and how he groomed his wife to continue the pay-to-play environment he had fostered among developers and business people.

Mrs. Johnson was elected as a County Council member a little over a week before the couple’s Mitchellville home was raided in Nov. 2010. She has since pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit witness tampering and one count of evidence tampering, offenses that stem from her attempts to hide her husband’s bribe money by flushing a $100,000 check down the toilet and hiding tens of thousands of dollars in her bra.

“In this case, under the facts that Mr. Johnson agreed to, I think the court would probably take a fairly hard line with respect to the appropriate sentencing,” said attorney Andrew White, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney in Maryland. “It’s especially ironic that Mr. Johnson was continuing his criminal conduct even after discussing on a wiretap the indictment of Sen. Currie. Even knowing that the FBI is investigating other public officials for similar misconduct, that didn’t slow him down one bit. I think that is a factor the court is going to take into account.”

Mr. White was referring to state Sen. Ulysses S. Currie, who was indicted but later acquitted of accepting bribes from a grocery store chain in exchange for political favors.

Another practicing attorney, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he wouldn’t be surprised if Judge Messitte “threw the book” at Johnson given the great breach of public trust.

Even if Johnson is sentenced at the top end of sentencing guidelines in the case, he would likely get out sooner, Mr. White said.

“In the federal system you serve about 85 percent of your time,” Mr. White said, speculating that could equal about 10 years time.

Either way, it would still put Johnson well into his 70s by the time he was released.

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