A job for an unqualified physician, assurance that a restaurant would pass health inspections, help getting a liquor store’s parking lot plowed in the winter — the favors that people asked of former Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson in exchange for money were not always extravagant.
A sentencing memo filed by federal prosecutors this week detailed for the first time some of the smaller requests that business owners and developers asked of Johnson before he was arrested as part of a wide-ranging federal corruption investigation.
“He is the biggest crook in the f——— whole county. He’s the low you can get with two grand,” said liquor store owner Amrik Singh Melhi, who pleaded guilty in June to bribing Johnson. Prosecutors said in court documents that Melhi made the comment to an undercover investigator in reference to the fact that Johnson could be bribed for as little as $2,000.
In one instance, the county executive intervened to secure a position for a developer’s acquaintance at Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly. The woman was one of 2,000 people who applied for 15 physician openings, but she had failed several tests related to the position and ranked among the lowest percentile qualified for the job, court documents say.
“As a favor to you they can make this happen, but it’s gonna raise all sorts of eyebrows,” an unnamed hospital official told Johnson during a February 2010 phone conversation taped by investigators.
To which Johnson replied, “Offer the lady a slot, s—-!”
In return for the difficult placement, Johnson asked for $50,000 from developer Mirza Baig, who also pleaded guilty in the bribery scheme.
On two occasions in June 2010, Baig again asked Johnson for help procuring jobs in county government for acquaintances, including someone who recently obtained a master’s degree in business administration. Johnson said he would look into it.
Johnson, his wife and 14 others were charged in the corruption scheme, in which Johnson extorted money and campaign contributions from developers and business owners in exchange for political favors, prosecutors said. Johnson faces up to 14 years in prison for accepting up to $1 million in bribes when he is sentenced Dec. 6.
Melhi, the owner of several liquor stores and restaurants in Prince George’s County, leaned on Johnson for various business-related favors, court documents show.
Of the most importance to Melhi in 2010 was the passage of a bill in the state legislature that would allow his liquor stores to stay open an additional three hours, until 3 a.m. He ultimately paid Johnson $40,000 for his efforts, although the legislation failed.
During the time that Melhi lobbied Johnson for the bill, no request seemed too small to ask of the county’s leader.
At one point, he complained that he was meeting with resistance from a county employee over a permit for a sign at a shopping center.
“I have problem with, ah, sign permit,” Melhi told Johnson, according to transcripts of one recorded phone conversation in February. “Can you give, somebody give him a call please?”
Johnson said he would see to it that day.
After several cars were towed in January 2010 from the parking lot of Melhi’s Tick Tock liquor store in Langley Park, Melhi also dialed up Johnson to complain.
“Let me call the chief and find out who it is okay,” Johnson replied. “Yeah and I’ll call and I’ll, I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Investigators recorded Melhi asking Johnson for at least seven separate favors, including help getting Tick Tock’s parking lot salted by county snowplows and guarantees that one of his restaurants would pass a county health inspection.
In the months after agreeing to help Melhi, Johnson repeatedly directed the liquor store owner to donate money to the campaign of his wife, Leslie E. Johnson, as she ran for a seat on the County Council. Leslie Johnson was elected to the council but stepped down after she pleaded guilty in June to witness- and evidence-tampering charges.
A transcript of a 2009 recording between an undercover investigator and a county police officer, who worked security for Melhi part-time at Tick Tock, shed some light on Jack Johnson’s relationship with Melhi.
“He donated to his campaign. They got close and Jack, every time Jack has a party he has to give him cases of wine so Jack comes through,” Sgt. Richard Delabrer said.
Delabrer pleaded guilty in May to corruption charges involving his role in protecting black-market shipments of liquor and cigarettes to Melhi’s stores and resigned from the police department. Other recordings transcribed in the sentencing memo show that Melhi asked Johnson to intervene when Delabrer was facing a transfer to a police district far from Tick Tock.
“He’s connected to the County Exec. Which is everybody’s boss in my county,” Delabrer said of Melhi, referring to him by his middle name, Singh. “When I pissed off my captain, he tried to send me to f——— Oxon Hill. You know, I had Singh just squash that s—-.”