- The Washington Times - Friday, December 9, 2011

Former Prince George’s County Councilwoman Leslie E. Johnson, who followed her husband’s ambitions into politics last year, will now follow in his footsteps to prison.

Federal Judge Peter J. Messitte sentenced Johnson Friday to 12 months and one day in prison, despite arguments by her defense attorneys that her sentence should be downgraded to probation only.

Mrs. Johnson, I regret to say you are not an innocent spouse, you are a complicit spouse,” Judge Messitte said. “You knew at least along the way what he was doing. You knew the money was tainted.”

Johnson also must serve two years under supervised release, perform 240 hours of community service to be decided by the judge and pay a $15,000 fine. She is to begin serving her sentence March 9 and she will be eligible for early release after 10 months.

Johnson, 60, pleaded guilty in June to charges related to a wide-ranging federal corruption probe that netted her husband, former Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson, developers and business owners in the county.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, she faced up to 18 months in jail for charges of conspiracy to commit witness and evidence tampering.

“I did not know anything about the criminal conduct that my husband engaged in prior to the events on Nov. 12, 2010,” Johnson said, adding that as a full-time working mother of three she would have had little time to meddle in or inquire about her husband’s affairs. “Had I known about it, I hope I would have had the courage and conviction to do something about it.”

Jack Johnson was sentenced Tuesday to more than seven years in prison for accepting up to $1 million in bribes while in office in exchange for political favors.

Were it not for the Nov. 12, 2010, recorded phone conversation between the couple — in which Jack Johnson directed his wife to get rid of bribe money, including $100,000 check she flushed down the toilet and nearly $80,000 she hid in her underwear — prosecutors said Leslie Johnson, a Democrat, would still be in office.

The wiretaps on Jack Johnson’s phone “gave us insight into the long-term plan of the defendant and Jack Johnson,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Copperthite said, adding “at that instant we got a snapshot of eight years of corruption and of Leslie Johnson being engaged in that corruption.”

Leslie Johnson’s attorney, Shawn Wright, argued that her client’s actions on the day FBI agents raided the couple’s Mitchellville home were merely that of a panicked wife.

“Within a matter of 10 minutes, Mrs. Johnson’s instinctive reaction to protect and obey her husband of more than 35 years, resulted in her commission of a felony,” Ms. Wright said Friday during the sentencing hearing at the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

Prosecutors colored additional recorded phone conversations between Jack Johnson and others about his wife’s campaign as proof that Leslie Johnson knew she was being groomed to take over her husband’s role as the “pay-to-play” powerbroker in the county.

Approximately 20 percent of the donations made to Leslie Johnson’s campaign were acquired through her husband’s corrupt relationships, Mr. Copperthite said. According to campaign finance reports submitted to the Center for American Politics and Citizenship, approximately $82,000 was collected by the Friends of Leslie E. Johnson during her campaign.

Noting that investigators never tapped Leslie Johnson’s phone, Ms. Wright argued that she was never a target of the corruption investigation until the last minute.

Mrs. Johnson’s severe lack of judgement on Nov. 12 is the only aberrant action the court should be concerned with today,” Ms. Wright said, adding that if her client had knowledge of the wider corruption scheme she would have provided that information to investigators after her arrest.

At the sentencing, Leslie Johnson, who was elected as the District 6 council member a mere 10 days before she was arrested, also defended her decision to be sworn into office and to remain in office through July.

“By taking my seat on the council I was attempting to do just what I promised to do. … I wanted to prove that my character was that of a woman of integrity, a woman of service,” she said. “I remained in office because I refused to allow my aberrant conduct on Nov. 12, 2010, to define me.”

At the end of her sentencing hearing, Ms. Wright requested that Leslie Johnson serve her time at women’s federal prison camp in Alderson, W. Va., the same minimum security facility where Martha Stewart spent time behind bars.

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