Sentiments Vary as Jack Johnson Prepares Defense
Dorothy Rowley | 3/31/2011, 12:58 a.m.
Former Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson might have a top-notch attorney in his corner, but the problem is that Billy Martin doesn't seem to have much to work with as he angles to get his client off the hook.
Those are the sentiments of WTOP political analyst Mark Plotkin, who also told the Washington Informer this week that, bottom line, Johnson, 61, -- who faces eight charges of corruption -- "took money," period.
"Quite frankly, Jack Johnson has put himself into this situation and his only possible relief from heavy prison time is to cut a deal of some kind," Plotkin said. "But I don't think there's much leverage [because] all they're going to try to say is that the federal government over-reached in terms of wiring him."
Although the FBI's wiretapped conversations of Johnson are key to the prosecution's conviction, Plotkin said they pose a technicality "rather than [points for] getting to the heart of the case."
Meanwhile, Johnson has pleaded not guilty to all counts and asked for a speedy trial by jury.
Johnson and his wife Leslie Johnson's lives began a downward spiral when they were simultaneously arrested last November in an FBI sting at their Mitchellville, Md., home.
Leslie Johnson, 59, a retired administrative judge, has been charged with destruction and evidence tampering for following her husband's instructions to flush a $100,000 check from a developer down a toilet and to hide $79,000 in her underwear. She faces a preliminary hearing in May.
If convicted of a felony, Leslie Johnson -- who assumed a seat on the County Council in December -- would have to relinquish that post.
Jack Johnson's term as county executive expired the same time his wife was seated on the Council.
The federal investigation surrounding him was launched about two years after he took office in 2002, and among charges the debonair, high-styling South Carolina native faces are bribery, conspiracy and extortion.
The charges are related to a series of permits and development projects in a pay-to-play scheme that the FBI claims personally netted Johnson hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and other favors.
By the time he left office last year, Jack Johnson had been credited with keeping the county's budget deficit to a low $77 million in comparison to nearby jurisdictions that include the District, where municipal over-spending has reached more than $300 million.
However, in addition to his current troubles, Johnson was taken to task in 2006 over high-cost trips he took at taxpayers' expense: a 2005 flight to West Africa for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for homes that had been under construction by a Lanham, Md., developer, reportedly cost taxpayers $6,000; and Johnson later came under scrutiny for staying at two of the most expensive hotels in Las Vegas while traveling there for shopping center conventions.
Martin was contacted for comment but had not responded by press time.
District-based attorney A. Scott Bolden, who has been retained on several white-collar cases, has no involvement in either of the Johnsons' cases. He said Jack Johnson was on the mark to hire Martin, and that the defense team should angle for an all-out attack.
"He's got a really good lawyer," Bolden said. "Now they have to attack the government's case [making them prove their allegations]."
In doing so, Bolden said Martin needs to challenge the credibility of witnesses as well as the government's investigation.
In short, to just "attack, attack, attack," he said, adding that while Jack Johnson has nothing to prove, the government has to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
"Jack Johnson doesn't have to say a word and I would suggest that would be at least part of his defense counsel's approach," Bolden said.
"The government started this undercover operation with the preconceived notion that there was corruption and criminal wrong-doing in Prince George's County."
Bolden also pointed out that while the government is good at making headlines when they arrest high-profile defendants, theirs is often an unfair, one-sided approach.
"For example, the allegation that [nearly] $80,000 was stuffed in Leslie Johnson's bra makes a great headline," Bolden said.
"But the fact of the matter is that it's impossibility -- for anyone. So great headlines don't get you convictions and therefore, the government's got a real challenge in proving their case."
Rocky Twyman, 62, a Montgomery County resident who said he often came in contact with Jack Johnson doing community work in the county, runs a soup kitchen for homeless individuals in Northwest.
Twyman said he and a group of supporters united for a prayer vigil at the time Johnson -- also a former county prosecutor -- was being arraigned at the federal courthouse in Greenbelt, Md.
There's since been a change of heart, he said
"A lot of us now think that Jack Johnson is wasting his time and money and that he should just go on and [make] a plea," Twyman said.
"The Bible talks about forgiveness and we forgive Jack Johnson, but it also says that when we do wrong things, we need [to make] restitution."
Twyman said that instead of Johnson wasting money on an attorney for a case "that's almost just open and shut," he should give it to the people of Prince George's County.
"Doing that might give him a better image before the judge because it would show true contrition," Twyman said. "Otherwise, as it stands now, they are going to throw the book at him."