Former Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson was sentenced Tuesday to serve seven years and three months in a North Carolina federal prison, ending a sensitive chapter in the county’s long political history.
With his sentence, Johnson also received three years of supervised release and must also pay a $100,000 fine, $37,000 of which is due before he goes to the Butner Federal Correctional Complex on Feb. 3. In jail, Johnson must go through an alcohol treatment program.
“In my wildest dream, I could not imagine being in a place like this," Johnson said before his sentence at U.S. District Court in Greenbelt. "I've lost everything — my reputation, everything I've worked so hard for."
During Tuesday’s sentencing, attorneys for Johnson tried to portray the former county executive as an unhealthy man unable to serve time in a federal prison. Johnson, 62, has been diagnosed with Parkinsonism, which could lead to Parkinson’s Disease, said attorney Jeff Harding.
“Prison doesn’t make any sense,” Harding told federal Judge Peter J. Messitte. “He would go off to some federal penitentiary and die.”
Instead, the attorneys argued, Johnson should be sentenced to house arrest so he can receive the appropriate medical care for his condition.
Federal prosecutors questioned the Parkinson’s argument, citing a picture taken by government officials that showed Johnson playing golf shortly after his diagnosis. Prosecutors also cited a report in which Johnson supposedly admitted to drinking heavily, which could have led to Parkinsonism.
Ultimately, Messitte didn’t buy the Parkinson’s argument either, and referenced a letter from Jeffrey D. Allen, Chief of Health Programs for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, to confirm that the prison system has the facilities to take care of Johnson.
Also, Messitte said, the court had already considered a lesser sentence for Johnson since he admitted guilt and cooperated with federal officials during his arrest. However, Johnson’s age and medical condition weren’t enough to further reduce his sentence.
And while Billy Martin painted Johnson as a hard-working community servant who made one mistake, Messitte referenced a long-standing system in which Johnson “lined his pockets.”
“When you lose in public officials, you lose trust in government,” Messitte said.
After the sentencing, Johnson took the elevator downstairs to be processed and then he left the building without comment.
During a press conference, Rod J. Rosenstein, U.S. State’s Attorney for Maryland, warned politicians against corruption.
“Jack Johnson thought corruption was the normal way of doing business,” Rosenstein said. “Anybody out there who’s engaged in corruption should not be resting easy.”
Others are ready to move forward.
“Since day one, I have been focused on the future of this county and not the past,” County Executive Rushern L. Baker III said in a statement. “Today’s events have not changed my focus one bit and I will continue to work tirelessly to make this County the best it can be.”
To see how events unfolded Tuesday, read below.
Update, 1 p.m.: U.S. State Attorney Rod Rosenstein said as punishment, they collected a vintage Mercedes from Jack Johnson's home Monday.
Rosenstein said they hope to eliminate conditions that will lead to future corruption in the county. He added that Johnson's sentence is long for a corruption case and he hopes it's substantial enough that it'll send a message to others.
Update, 12:48 p.m.: The press conference with the U.S. State Attorney Rod Rosenstein has begun.
Jack Johnson will serve his sentence at Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina. His seven-year sentence will begin in February.
"It's not a coincidence to see a case like Jack Johnson's result in a guilty plea," Rosenstein said. "People would assume it's fiction, but it's not, it's reality."
"Jack Johnson knew he was under federal investigation," he continued. "He just laughed it off and continued to put money in his pocket."
Update, 12:35 p.m.: Jack Johnson is processed and walks out of the courthouse flanked on each side by attorneys and supporters.
As the media frenzy outside builds, members of the media ask Johnson for comment, but he doesn't say a word. Watch him leave the courthouse.
Patch is still at the courthouse waiting to hear word from the state's attorney.
Update, 12:23 p.m.: Patch is on scene awaiting a scheduled press conference. We will stream live video, once the conference begins.
Update, 12:09 p.m.: Johnson has been sentenced to seven years and three months in jail, plus three years supervised release. He will also need to complete an alcohol treatment program.
Johnson must also pay a $100,000 fine, $37,000 of which must be paid by February.
Update, 11:53 a.m.: In my wildest dream, I could not imagine being in a place like this," said Johnson. "I've lost everything -- my reputation, everything I've worked so hard for."
He then apologized to the residents of Prince George's County, the young people who look up to him, and his family for letting them down.
Update, 11:31 a.m.: Billy Martin, an attorney for Jack Johnson, is defending his character: "He didn't buy or cheat his way into office."
Jack Johnson's attorneys are seeking a sentence less than 87 months. A heavy sentence at Johnson's age isn't justified, Martin said.
Instead, Johnson's attorneys want house arrest for the former county executive, so he can receive the medical attention he needs.
Update, 11:20 a.m.: Because Johnson cooperated with federal officials, he faces 87 to 108 months in prison, two to three years of supervised release and fines of up to $150,000.
Update, 11:11 a.m.: The judge explained the sentencing guidelines, saying that they already take the defendant's age and criminal history into account.
A federal prison official confirmed in a letter to the state that it has the ability to provide care for Johnson if he has Parkinson's Disease.
The judge also said that age and family ties aren't enough to justify a lesser sentence for Jack Johnson.
Update, 10:41 a.m.: The arguments are completed. The judge has called for a 10-to 15-minute recess to discuss the issue with attorneys. He'll rule once he returns.
Update, 10:30 a.m.: The state questions Johnson's Parkinson's Disease diagnosis.
The state cited a report in which Johnson admitted to heavy drinking, which they said could have contributed to the tremors.
Last year, Johnson had hypertension and anxiety disorder, but no confirmed Parkinson's Disease, the state reported. Jack Johnson has Parkinsonism, which could lead to Parkinson's Disease, but he doesn't have Parkinson's Disease now.
Even if Jack Johnson has Parkinson's, the Federal Bureau of Prisons would be able to take care of him, says the state.
Update, 10:14 a.m.: Inside the courtroom, Jack Johnson's lawyers are seeking lesser penalties for the former county executive, due to his age and medical condition.
Jeff Harding, an attorney for Jack Johnson, said the former county executive suffers from tremors, which doctors diagnosed as Parkinson's Disease in July.
Update, 9:50 a.m.: Jack Johnson arrived in a black SUV around 9:15 a.m. and walked into the courthouse with his legal team. It was eerily quiet except for the camera shutters and one attorney who asked the media to "make a hole."
Original Post, 8 a.m.: Former is scheduled for sentencing at 9:30 a.m. at the federal courthouse in Greenbelt.
Johnson, along with his wife former Prince George’s County councilwoman Leslie Johnson and a number of others were snagged in a corruption case over a year ago involving allegations of extortion, bribery, evidence and witness tampering and conspiracy.
Jack Johnson faces up to 14 years in jail for orchestrating a years-long pay-to-play scheme throughout his two terms in office, according to The Washington Post.
He accepted up to $1 million in kickbacks from developers and others in the county to whom he delivered favors, as detailed in the sentencing document by federal prosecutors.
Stay tuned to Patch for the latest.