- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Prince George’s County Council member Leslie E. Johnson resigned Tuesday, five days after pleading guilty to federal corruption charges.

But her resignation, effective July 31, does not come soon enough for County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, who called on Johnson to leave her post immediately, or her council colleagues, who voted in her absence to strip her of her staff, her government car and her county-issued cellphone.

“No delay is necessary,” Mr. Baker said Tuesday afternoon.

Johnson admitted last week in federal court that she destroyed a $100,000 check from a developer to her husband, former County Executive Jack B. Johnson, and stuffed nearly $80,000 in illicit cash into her underwear to hide it from investigators who were knocking at her front door. She faces up to a year and a half in prison when she is sentenced Oct. 13 on charges of conspiracy to commit witness and evidence tampering.

Johnson, a Democrat, had been facing increasing pressure to step down from council members who felt her continued presence would become a major distraction in coming months and slow the learning process for her eventual successor.

Under Maryland law she was not required to resign until her sentencing, and she gave no indication after her guilty plea last week that she had any intention of stepping down until then.

Council members said during an afternoon news conference at the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro that several of them had spoken with Johnson, but they could not say what accounted for her decision to resign at this time.

“I’m hoping that Mrs. Johnson had the opportunity to think over the weekend, had an opportunity to mull what happened on Thursday, had the opportunity to hear what many people had talked about and what many colleagues had written in the paper,” County Council Chairman Ingrid M. Turner said. “Again though, we would like to have Mrs. Johnson tender her resignation immediately so that we can continue to focus at the business at hand.”

Johnson’s attorney, Shawn Wright, did not return a call for comment.

The resignation was announced during the council’s first meeting since Johnson’s guilty plea. She attended the meeting just long enough to hand Ms. Turner a letter outlining her resignation, but by the time council members took their places after standing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, her seat on the dais was vacant.

She did not attend a closed-door council session convened to discuss her situation.

Mr. Baker, who said he learned of the resignation through a text message, said the pressure for Johnson to resign “started with county officials, then gained momentum with residents in her district.

“I voiced my opinion with residents of District 6. I think they started voicing theirs,” said Mr. Baker, a Democrat.
Ms. Turner said Johnson will continue to get her council pay until she steps down — approximately $8,000 a month — but the county will seek to recover her county-issued cellphone, computer, car and parking pass for the County Administration Building’s garage.

“We would look to recover those items,” she said, adding Johnson’s phone could easily be turned off.

The four employees who currently work for Johnson will now report to the council administrator rather than to her, and all grant money designated to her office to distribute will be suspended, Ms. Turner said.

The nine-member panel voted last year to bar Johnson from serving on committees or leading consideration of development projects within her district. She is still allowed to vote on legislation and attend committee meetings, though other council members said they do not know if she intends to do so in the month leading up to her resignation date.

The process thus far of removing Johnson from office has exposed several loopholes that County Council members said they would like to fix. Ms. Turner said the council plans to re-examine its own charter and to talk with state officials about the law that allows Johnson to retain her seat until sentencing.

When Johnson does step down, the county is required to hold a special primary election 45 to 60 days after her departure, followed by a general election no more than 90 days after she leaves office.

A total of 15 people, including the Johnsons, have been charged in a widespread federal corruption probe in Prince George’s County.

Jack Johnson admitted last month when he pleaded guilty to public corruption charges that a county developer gave him tens of thousands of dollars in bribes to earn federal funding and county approval of his development projects.

Jack Johnson faces a prison term between 11 and 13 years when he is sentenced Sept. 15.

Leslie Johnson, a first-term council member, was elected to office in November, two months after winning a six-candidate primary with nearly 41 percent of the vote. The runner-up was Derrick Leon Davis, a county schools employee who received about 32 percent of all votes.

The candidates were vying to replace former council member Samuel H. Dean, who was forced out by term limits and ran an unsuccessful campaign for county executive. Having been replaced, Mr. Dean would now be eligible to run for the vacant council seat.