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When an ex-chief prosecutor flagrantly takes bribes

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Every criminal defendant is entitled to the presumption of innocence. Guilty pleas and guilty verdicts do not always eliminate innocence, as exemplified by the many people exonerated by DNA evidence.

However, with former Prince George’s County, Maryland elected county executive and elected chief prosecutor Jack Johnson, the transcript of his monumentally farcical efforts (see Attachment pages 10-14) to have his wife hide piles of cash and a big check, as the FBI was at the door, supports that his bribery-related guilty plea had a solid basis in fact.

Many years ago, I bumped into Johnson briefly on a few occasions. He always seemed to have no big ego (whether or not that was true overall). When I told him of my opposition to the death penalty when he was the chief county prosecutor, he did not gloss over the issue, but instead told me he had some concerns about imposing it. When I went to testify in 2003 against a new proposed county bill curbing activities of strip clubs (the measure was later dropped after I filed a federal lawsuit against it as local counsel with another lawyer), I told then-county executive Johnson why I was there. He got on no soapbox. He did no glad handing nor fake smiling, nor scowling. He seemed to just accept the reality that the strip clubs would have legal counsel, and that I was one of those lawyers.

Were I a resident of Prince George’s County, I would not have been very impressed with him to have wanted him as a leader. County voters thought otherwise, at the time.

If his purported bribery-taking and pay-to-play approach lasted for as long as it purportedly did, Johnson was perhaps very skillful at avoiding a prosecution for so long, unless such behavior preceded him in his office, perhaps making developers and other businesspeople just accept that as a price of doing business for many years in the county, and unless federal investigators had been on his tail for years, building a bigger case against not only him, but also against his wife who was convicted in the scandal, and others who got caught in the investigation.

Here is Jack Johnson’s guilty plea agreement. He was recently sentenced to seven years in prison.