One of the most powerful politicians in the Washington, D.C.-metropolitan area – and, perhaps, in the state of Maryland – is now on his way to jail after engaging in some of the most egregious pay-to-play behavior seen in a number of years in Prince George’s County.
Prosecutors described it as “bizarre” throughout much of former Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson’s trial. However, many PG County political insiders are quick to describe it as “business as usual” in the County, with some whispering about how much beyond Johnson it goes. Investigators have yet to reveal information on other county elected officials, and the County Council has been particularly nervous since last year when Johnson was arrested and arraigned.
It’s another sad chapter in a volume of stacked tragedies for Prince George’s County, which struggles to reconcile its shady ways with its pride as the most affluent African American jurisdiction in the United States. Strangely enough, Johnson’s sentencing falls on the first anniversary of the election of County Executive Rushern Baker who has promised to usher in a new wave of leadership and clean politics. That’s the story County officials would really like for us to focus on.
Which is extremely hard to do in a county where it took Baker years before the county’s political machine would let him win the County Executive seat. According to one PG political boss during one of Baker’s unsuccessful bids years ago: “Rushern knows how it works. He’s got to stand in line.”
That pretty much sums up how political business is done in Prince George’s – a place where community advocates and political player wannabes are more concerned with folks using the acronym “PG” out of fear that it racially disparages the majority-Black county. But, few seem full of ideas when it comes to seriously addressing the county’s wide range of problems – from its foreclosure rates (the highest in the D.C. suburbs) to increasing poverty as Black Washingtonians find themselves displaced by rapid gentrification in the city.
And, few have come up with any trailblazing ideas or stepped out on a limb to do something about the county’s fledgling school system. More bizarre than Johnson’s pay-to-play schemes is how a county with the highest concentration of wealthy African Americans is denied quality schools. A common, run-of-the-mill conversation among county parents goes something like this: 1) What private school is your kid in? and 2) Agreement that no one with financial means is putting their kids in PG County schools.
So, many Black parents in PG County schools get double-taxed: they’re paying high property taxes that are supposed to pay for school improvements, yet too many of them are paying tens of thousands of dollars a year in annual tuition for private school.
It’s not that they don’t want to put their kids in county schools. But, the poor quality of many of the schools makes it tough.
The question is: why can’t majority Black Prince George’s County get the same quality of schools as in, say, majority White Fairfax County in Northern Virginia?
While the question on education seems like a tangent away from Johnson’s conviction and sentencing, it’s very relevant.
A bit of news on the sentencing. Here’s the Washington Informer, short and sweet about it:
Former Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson has been sentenced to 7 years in prison for his role in a long-running pay-to-play scheme where he reportedly pocketed between $400,000 and $1 million.
The bribery of developers, which began soon after Johnson,62, took over the helm of county government in 2002, ended in November 2010 when he — along with his wife Leslie, 59 – was arrested in an FBI sting at his home in Mitchellville, Md
Johnson, who faced up to 14 years in prison, apologized at his Dec. 6 sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md., saying he had been “haunted” by his actions.
Local area FOX affiliate WTTG-TV always adds a dose of drama to it:
Since the Johnsons’ arrests in November 2010, prosecutors have revealed a sweeping investigation that has touched varied corners of county life and led to charges against his wife, who was elected to the county council just before her arrest and who resigned in July, as well as police officers, liquor store owners, developers and county officials. Fifteen people have so far been convicted in investigations into county corruption, prosecutors say.
Leslie Johnson is to be sentenced this week after pleading guilty in June to conspiracy to commit witness and evidence tampering.
“If Jack Johnson’s story were a Hollywood screenplay,” U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein said after the hearing, “critics would say it’s too bizarre to be true.”
The conviction marked a precipitous fall for Johnson, who put himself through college before becoming an IRS lawyer, the county’s top prosecutor and ultimately its executive. Johnson, 62, who pleaded guilty in May, said he was “haunted” by his actions and that he had ruined his reputation and the faith that his former constituents in Prince George’s — the nation’s most affluent majority-black county — had placed in him.
Oh yeah – and while those “affluent” hard-working African American parents in Prince George’s County were barely scraping by to put their kid in a decent private school when they would have preferred putting them in a quality and safe public school, here’s that tape of Johnson accepting a bribe: