Sen. Johnson wants corruption charges tossed

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit – Sen. Bert Johnson wants a federal judge to dismiss the corruption indictment against him or at least delay the Oct. 23 trial.

The requests were among a flurry of motions filed Tuesday in a high-profile case that is among a new wave of public corruption scandals to hit Metro Detroit in the years since former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and 40 others were convicted of federal corruption crimes.

Johnson, 43, is facing conspiracy and theft charges that carry penalties of up to 10 years in federal prison. The indictment alleges the Highland Park Democrat stole more than $23,000 from taxpayers between March 2014 and January 2015.

The indictment alleges Johnson stole money from a federally funded program. The indictment should be dismissed because Johnson cannot be considered an agent of the state of Michigan and because the legislature receives no federal funds, defense lawyer John Shea wrote in a court filing Tuesday.

The state’s executive and judicial branches receive federal funds, not the legislature, the lawyer wrote.

Separately, Shea wants to delay the trial so he can have more time to review evidence collected during a nearly two-year investigation.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Leitman already delayed the trial to give Johnson’s legal team more time to prepare and investigate a government witness’ background.

The trial originally was scheduled to start June 20 but was delayed until August and again to Oct. 23 after Johnson dumped his lawyer and received court-appointed counsel.

The evidence is voluminous, document-intensive, incomplete, or hasn’t been provided by the government, said Shea, who was appointed in July.

Some of the evidence includes information and documents regarding the gambling activities of the government’s star witness, ghost employee Glynis Thornton, according to court records.

Johnson borrowed at least $14,000 in cash from Thornton, and later hired her as a community liaison, according to court records. The no-show job was merely a way for Johnson to pay off the debt, the government alleges.

Thornton, who pleaded guilty in a separate public corruption case involving the state-run Education Achievement Authority in Detroit, is cooperating with authorities and secretly recorded a conversation with Johnson at his home in November 2015.

She is awaiting sentencing and is expected to testify against Johnson.

Johnson, who has a history of financial struggles and legal fights over unpaid bills, is paid a $71,685 annual salary as a state senator.

Johnson is free on bond and remains in office.

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