Acting U. S. Attorney Duane A. Evans announced that JAMES JOHNSON, age 38 of New Orleans, was sentenced today by United States District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle after previously pleading guilty in the midst of trial for his role in operating a long-running and extensive bribery and honest services fraud scheme related to a series of bail bonds business located at 536-38 South Broad Street in New Orleans. JOHNSON previously pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony. Today, Judge Lemelle sentenced him to 5 years probation and ordered him to forfeit $25,000 and pay a fine of $25,000. Judge Lemelle also postponed ruling on whether JOHNSON must also pay restitution pending further proceedings.
According to the court documents, JOHNSON’S father, Rufus Johnson, who was previously sentenced to 74 months in prison, operated as an unlicensed bail bondsman for at least between 2003 and 2013, accepting money from customers in exchange for getting Orleans Parish Prison inmates released from jail, in violation of state law. To circumvent the prohibition against unlicensed individuals operating as bailbondsmen, Rufus Johnson opened bail bonds business under JOHNSON’S name and then used the licenses of JOHNSON and other employees and contracts of paid employee bail bondsmen and corruptly paid certain public employees in the Orleans Parish criminal justice system to release inmates on their own recognizance, to provide and alter information in protected computer systems, and to make false certifications on official bond documents. JOHNSON was aware that the business made cash payments to deputy clerks in the Clerk’s Office of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court in order to obtain documents and information, including sensitive and official-use-only information, from protected computer systems servicing the criminal justice system. This information was valuable to bail bondsmen who were seeking to post bonds for inmates and to address bond forfeitures.
Additionally, JOHNSON was aware that Rufus Johnson paid bribes and kickbacks to a deputy clerk at Criminal District Court who worked as a deputy at CINTAP, an office located in the Orleans Parish Prison’s Central Lockup where one or two deputy sheriffs on shift received and processed telephone orders from judges and other appropriate elected officials to release pre-trial prison inmates on their own recognizance, or to reduce or otherwise alter inmates’ bail amounts or bail status.
After the scheme was unearthed in 2010, JOHNSON sought to obstruct the investigation by instructing other persons involved with the bail business that if law enforcement should ask what Rufus Johnson did there, they should lie and say that he was merely the janitor, or that his primary role at the office was cleaning up and sweeping, and that he did not sell, solicit, or negotiate bonds, and that he was not the primary operator of the bailbonds business. Several of these individuals subsequently repeated this lie to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. JOHNSON also testified falsely before a federal grand jury about the nature of his father’s role at the bailbonds business.