Former Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson Pleads Guilty to Federal Extortion and Bribery
Guilty Pleas of Former Prince George’s Housing Director James Johnson and Developers Patrick Ricker and Dr. Mirza Baig Unsealed
Greenbelt, Maryland - Former Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson, age 62, of Mitchellville, Maryland, pleaded guilty today to an extortion conspiracy relating to the performance of his official duties; and tampering with a witness and evidence. The guilty plea was taken by United States Senior District Judge Peter J. Messitte.
After the hearing, the court unsealed records of three related cases. Former Director of the Prince George’s County Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) James Edward Johnson, age 66, of Temple Hills, Maryland, pleaded guilty on January 28, 2011 to conspiracy to commit extortion. James Johnson and Jack Johnson are not related. Dr. Mirza Hussain Baig, age 67, of Burtonsville, Maryland, pleaded guilty on April 11, 2011 to conspiracy to commit extortion in connection with paying bribes to Jack Johnson and James Johnson. Patrick Q. Ricker, age 52, of Bowie, Maryland, pleaded guilty on December 30, 2009 to conspiring to commit honest services fraud and to make false statements to the Federal Election Commission; and to tax evasion. These three guilty pleas were previously entered under seal.
The guilty pleas were announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge Richard A. McFeely of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Special Agent in Charge Rebecca Sparkman of the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation, Washington, D.C. Field Office.
“Electing and appointing men and women of good character is important,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. “But the key to honest government is to create a culture of integrity by establishing checks and balances that promote accountability. People who seek government benefits or approvals deserve to be evaluated on the merits, without being extorted or losing out to competitors who pay bribes.”
“This case demonstrates the FBI’s continued commitment to rooting out corruption at all levels of government,” said Special Agent in Charge Richard A. McFeely of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “While Jack Johnson’s guilty plea today shines a bright light on the crimes he and his associates committed, it is not the end of the FBI’s investigation into corruption in Prince George’s County. The FBI will devote all available resources to bring corrupt public officials and their criminal associates to justice.”
“IRS Criminal Investigation will use our financial expertise to expose any public official who thinks that the normal course of doing business involves bribes and kickbacks,” stated Rebecca A. Sparkman, IRS Special Agent in Charge. “The public has the right to know that those who work for them are doing so honestly.”
Jack Johnson was Prince George’s County Executive from 2002 to December 2010. Prior to 2002, Jack Johnson was the county’s State’s Attorney. In September 2009, Jack Johnson appointed James Johnson to serve as the Director of DHCD, which administered the HOME Investment Partnerships program to provide federal grants to states and localities to fund the construction, purchase and/or rehabilitation of affordable housing for rent or home-ownership. As Housing Director, James Johnson had authority to recommend which developers would receive HOME funds for development projects in the County and to grant the developers exceptions from regulatory requirements.
Patrick Ricker is a developer in Prince George’s County, a licensed real estate broker in Maryland and the president of Ricker Brothers, Inc. Ricker and his co-conspirators had an interest in Greenbelt Metropark, which sought to design, develop and build a mixed-use project near the Greenbelt Metro Station, called Greenbelt Station. Ricker and his co-conspirators also had an interest in Day Homes, which was incorporated to construct single family homes in Maryland, and was involved in several development projects in the County.
Mirza Baig is a physician and the president of Laurel Lakes Primary Care, LLC located in Laurel, Maryland. Further, Baig owned Baig Ventures, which was a commercial and residential developer in the County since at least 1992.
According to Jack Johnson’s guilty plea, from 2003 through at least November 12, 2010, Jack Johnson was part of a conspiracy in which Baig, Ricker and other business persons offered things of value, including money, trip expenses, meals, drinks, hotel rooms, airline tickets, rounds of golf, employment, mortgage payments, and monetary and in-kind campaign contributions to Jack and James Johnson and other state and local government officials. Baig and James Johnson pleaded guilty to being part of the conspiracy from 2006 through 2010, and Ricker pleaded guilty to being part of the conspiracy from about 1997 through at least September 11, 2008.
In exchange for the bribes, Jack Johnson, James Johnson, and other County officials performed and agreed to perform favorable official actions for Baig, Ricker and other developers, business owners and their companies. The official acts included obtaining a waiver of a HOME Program regulation, securing millions of dollars in HOME funds; assisting in the acquisition of surplus property and land from the County for development by certain developers, including Baig and Ricker; providing the conspirators with non-public County information; obtaining necessary state and local approvals and permits for certain developments and businesses in the County, including Greenbelt Station, one of Ricker’s projects; obtaining employment with the County; obtaining management rights for County bond funds; obtaining County funding for certain developments and businesses in the County; assisting with state and County legislation regarding liquor store hours; influencing certain County officials to approve and/or facilitate County business; and, securing County commitments to lease property from certain developers at developments in the County.
According to Jack Johnson’s plea agreement, during a six month period in 2005, Baig provided Jack Johnson with six payments of $1,500 in cash, in exchange for Johnson’s assistance concerning several development projects. In addition, Jack Johnson admitted that Baig paid him $50,000 in return for his assistance in obtaining County employment for one of Baig’s associates as a physician at Prince George’s County Hospital and provided another $100,000 check for assistance in getting HOME funds for one of Baig’s projects.
According to Ricker’s plea agreement, state and local officials concealed items they received from Ricker and his co-conspirators by failing to report them or by misrepresenting their nature and value. Further, Ricker and his co-conspirators concealed campaign contributions to the state and local officials that were above state and federal legal limits by using conduits and in-kind contributions. Specifically, Ricker admitted that he recruited “straw donors,” including family members and employees, to make state and federal campaign contributions with funds provided by or reimbursed by Ricker and his co-conspirators. Ricker also provided in-kind contributions to conceal the actual amount of his campaign contributions, such as campaign signs, food, alcohol and the administrative services of their employees and family members.
According to their plea agreements, Baig paid Jack and James Johnson between $400,000 and $1 million in bribes in connection with the scheme.
Additionally, Jack Johnson admits that just prior to his arrest on November 12, 2010, he and a co-conspirator exchanged a series of telephone calls. During one of those calls, as federal agents were knocking on the door of Johnson’s home to execute a search warrant, Johnson told the co-conspirator to destroy the $100,000 check provided to Johnson by Baig and to hide cash that he had hidden in their home. Specifically, Jack Johnson admitted that he told the co-conspirator to flush the check down the toilet and hide the cash in her underwear. Federal agents entered the home and recovered approximately $79,600 from the co-conspirator.
Ricker further admits that in an attempt to evade income tax owed to the U.S. government for tax years 2004 to 2007, he under-reported his taxable income by a total of more than $1.1 million.
Jack Johnson faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for the extortion conspiracy. James Johnson and Mirza Baig face a maximum sentence of five years in prison for the conspiracy to commit extortion, and Patrick Ricker faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for the honest services fraud and false statements conspiracy. Jack Johnson also faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for witness and evidence tampering. Patrick Ricker also faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for tax evasion. Judge Messitte set sentencing for Jack Johnson on September 15, 2011 at 9:30 a.m. Mirza Baig is scheduled for sentencing on July 14, 2011 at 9:30 a.m. No sentencing dates have been scheduled to date for James Johnson and Patrick Ricker.
The case pending against Leslie Johnson is unaffected by Jack Johnson’s guilty plea.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the FBI and IRS-CI for their work in the investigation and thanked the Prince George’s County Police Department for its assistance. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorneys James A. Crowell IV, A. David Copperthite and Sujit Raman, who are prosecuting these cases.