Jack Johnson charged: Former P.G. County executive indicted on corruption charges

Former Prince George's County executive Jack Johnson was indicted on conspiracy, extortion and bribery charges in federal court Monday, as a five-year-long federal probe into corruption in county government nears its culmination.

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Jack Johnson in a 2008 file photo (Photo: Associated Press)

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Jack Johnson indicted on conspiracy, bribery and extortion

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The indictment [PDF] alleges Johnson worked with Tick Tock liquor store owner Amrik Melhi, two unnamed developers, an unnamed former head of the county's housing department and a former political candidate in the county to exchange influence in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars in cash, rounds of golf, airplane tickets and other goods. Starting with a $3,000 check in 2003, the first full year of the Democrat's term as county executive, Johnson would accept bribe after bribe until his arrest in November.

In exchange, Johnson and the housing department head threw their weight around, getting legislation passed that made the developers eligible for millions in federal housing grants that are channeled through the county. Johnson also worked to get an associate of one of the developers hired at Prince George's County Hospital in Cheverly. Melhi also worked with other county business owners to illegally make in-kind political contributions like yard signs to political campaigns in Prince George's, according to the 35-page, 8-count indictment.

Johnson had been scheduled to appear in court tomorrow to file a plea in the case that began when he and his wife, Leslie, were initially arrested in November.

While Johnson is the indictment's only named defendant, the charges hint at larger corruption schemes in Prince George's. The indictment says other county council officials and unnamed state officials were also involved in conspiracies. Phone conversations described in the indictment show Johnson treating corruption cavalierly.

“Pay-to-play government is not democratic government,” U.S. Attorney for Maryland Rod Rosenstein said in a written statement. “Anyone who seeks benefits or approvals from the government should be evaluated on the merits, without being extorted for payments or losing out to competitors who pay bribes. Government employees flagrantly abuse the public trust when they take money in return for official acts.”

At an afternoon press conference at the federal courthouse in Greenbelt, Rosenstein wouldn't directly comment on the spread of corruption in Prince George's, but did say there were "several" pending indictments related to the one released today.

The indictment details alleged acts of corruption between the Johnsons, two developers, Melhi and the public official that stretch back to 2003. Among them:

• A $3,000 to check from Developer A to Johnson in 2003 and a $10,000 check from Developer A to Johnson in 2006. Four years later, the indictment alleges, Johnson agreed to help an associate of Developer A land a job at Prince George’s County Hospital.

• Johnson asked Tom Dernoga -- who at the time served as County Council chair -- to introduce legislation that would have allowed Developer A receive federal housing funds from the county. Developer A gave Johnson a $50,000 cashier’s check that month and a month later agreed to purchase investment property from him.

• In June 2010, Developer B gave $9,000 to Public Official A, believed to be James Johnson because he served at the time as Director of the Department of Housing and Community Development. He gave another $9,000 in July 2010. In that time, Public Official A helped secure federal funds for Developer B’s project.

• Developer A gave two $8,000 checks to Public Official A on Aug. 8 and 15, and made two payments totalling $20,000 to Johnson in August.

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