In November, Prince George’s County Councilwoman Leslie E. Johnson could be heard on a federal wiretap asking her husband — then-County Executive Jack B. Johnson — what to do about a $100,000 check from a developer and $79,600 in cash hidden in their Mitchellville home.
“You want me to take the cash out of here, too?” Leslie Johnson asked Jack on the telephone, as federal agents rapped on the door to execute a search warrant.
“ … And then where’s the check?” she continued.
“You got the cash?” Jack Johnson responded. “Okay … put it in your bra or something like that.”
On Thursday morning, Leslie Johnson pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of conspiracy to commit evidence and witness tampering, one month after her husband pleaded guilty in the same courtroom to conspiracy, extortion and evidence tampering.
Johnson, 59, is scheduled to be sentenced 9:30 a.m., Oct. 13. The conspiracy count carries a 20-year prison sentence, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine. Johnson’s plea agreement calls for a 12- to 18-month prison sentence and a forfeiture of the $79,600 in cash she tried to hide.
“There is nothing I could do or say that would make this day any less difficult,” Johnson (Dist. 6) told reporters.
She then asked to not be defined by her mistake, adding that she will “look forward to continuing to serve and making a difference in the lives of the people in need.”
Johnson’s attorney, Shawn M. Wright, said the councilwoman would remain on the County Council through sentencing. After reading her statement, Johnson ignored reporters’ questions and was driven away in a white Suburban with tinted windows.
“Today is a difficult day,” County Council Chairwoman Ingrid M. Turner (Dist. 4) of Bowie said in a statement. “Johnson has pleaded guilty to a felony. After she has commenced her sentence, she will no longer be a qualified voter under Maryland election law and must then forfeit her office.”
For others, Johnson’s guilty plea marks the end of an embarrassing chapter in Prince George’s.
“It’s a very difficult and sad time for the Johnson family,” said Mike Little, a Prince George’s County based political analyst. “For the county, it will hopefully bring a conclusion to a very difficult time. I’m glad that this chapter has come to close, I see it as an unfortunate and sad circumstance.”
But it’s not over just yet.
Without providing specifics, U.S. Attorney for Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein told reporters that the state would present new information about the federal probe at sentencing. So far, 15 people have been charged in the probe, with 12 of those people having pleaded guilty, Rosenstein said.
Leslie Johnson’s guilty plea sends the message that government officials shouldn’t take bribes and private developers shouldn’t offer bribes, Rosenstein added.
“The tone is set from the top,” he said. “The leadership of any organization sets the tone for how that organization is run.”
The Johnsons, Rosenstein added, have set “a bad tone.”
Laurel Patch Editor Joshua Garner contributed to this report.