Four PG Council members join Baker, say Leslie Johnson must go

Leslie Johnson stands outside the courthouse in Greenbelt after pleading guilty. (Photo: Brad Bell/ABC7)

(AP, ABC7) What Leslie Johnson calls a "mistake,” federal officials call a felony. Despite guilty plea Thursday in a wide-ranging corruption scandal, she appears to be staying in office amid calls for her resignation.

Four members of the Prince George's County Council have called for the resignation of Johnson.

Johnson pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court in Maryland to conspiracy to commit evidence and witness tampering.

The Washington Post reports that Mary Lehman (D-Laurel), William A. Campos (D-Hyattsville), Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro) and Eric Olson (D-College Park) have called for Johnson's resignation. Four other members of the council have not commented on whether Johnson should resign.

County Executive Rushern L. Baker III called for her to leave the day of her guilty plea.

“I believe the process of healing should not be delayed or deferred and it is in the best interest of Prince George's County that Council Member Leslie Johnson resign from the County Council,” Baker said in a statement.

If Johnson resigned, the council’s summer recess could be used to prepare for the inevitable special election, Baker stated. That would minimize the time Johnson’s 6th District seat remained vacant.

"I’m hopeful that today's plea agreement will end an unfortunate chapter in recent County history,” he stated.

Johnson, wife of disgraced former county executive Jack Johnson, made her plea at the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt. She pleaded guilty to one count of witness and evidence tampering.

"There is nothing I can do or say to make this day any less difficult," Johnson said outside the courthouse after her plea hearing.

The maximum penalty for the plea is up to 20 years in prison, but the plea deal calls for a 12-18 month term. She faces an Oct. 13 sentencing.

She'll keep her seat on the Prince George's County Council until her sentencing, a move Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler says is legal.

"The evidence demonstrates that Jack Johnson and Leslie Johnson are guilty of an offense that is a disgrace," U.S. Attorney for Maryland Rod Rosenstein said.

"We hope that this sordid tale of corruption will help usher in a new era of honest government," he added in a statement.

Johnson was arrested and charged in an ongoing corruption probe along with her husband. Jack Johnson pleaded guilty to one count of extortion and one count of evidence tampering. Six counts were dropped.

Rosenstein said he expects more charges to come out of the ongoing investigation.

"Every government official in Maryland swears to serve faithfully without partiality or prejudice, but some officials are tempted to violate that oath," Rosenstein said.

Authorities said Jack Johnson instructed his wife to flush a $100,000 check down a toilet and stuff cash in her bra on the day they were arrested, according to the criminal complaint.

"Put it in your bra and walk out or something, I don't know what to do," Jack Johnson allegedly told his wife after she called him to say that two women were at the door.

Agents who eventually searched Leslie Johnson recovered $79,600 from her underwear. The FBI was using court-approved wire taps to record the conversation.

Leslie Johnson was elected to the County Council shortly before the November arrest and was sworn in despite calls from several council members to step aside.

The U.S. Attorney's office declined to comment except to confirm that the hearing has been scheduled.

County residents react

"I think she should go out of shame," said Marly Featherson when asked if she thought Johnson should resign.

Technically, Johnson does not have to vacate her county seat until she is sentenced for her crime, county officials say.

Some are concerned about the negative light the federal investigation has shed on Prince George's County.

"It doesn't do anything good for our reputation that's for sure. Which is already not that good... they need to pay for these things,” said Jon Dow.