Nov. 12: Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson, 61, center, speaks to the media with his lawyers Brian McDaniel, left, and Billy Martin, outside U.S.
By the CNN Wire Staff
Washington (CNN) -- A suburban Washington county official at the center of an FBI investigation into years of kickbacks says he is innocent and that the facts will prove it.
Jack Johnson, who served as the executive of Prince George's County, Maryland, since 2002, spoke to reporters late Friday after the FBI released details of how he and his wife allegedly tried to hide checks and evidence of illegal payments, even going so far as to flush a $100,000 check down the toilet.
The Johnsons were both charged with tampering with evidence and destruction of records after they appeared in federal court late Friday in Greenbelt, Maryland, just outside the U.S. capital.
"I'm innocent of these charges and I just can't wait for the facts to come out," said Johnson. "When they come out, I am absolutely convinced that I'm going to be -- that we will be vindicated."
An affidavit by an FBI investigator whose team was monitoring wiretaps detailed a dramatic end to an alleged years-long kickback scheme organized by the couple.
After the Johnsons were arrested, FBI agents searched their Mitchellville, Maryland, home, walking out with at least 10 boxes filled with evidence. U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein stressed the investigation is continuing.
The Johnsons were released on their own recognizance, but Jack Johnson will be required to wear a monitoring device and presumably will be allowed to continue serving out the last weeks of his expiring term as county executive if he chooses. The judge, however, ordered him not to attempt to destroy any evidence.
Jack Johnson had been the Prince George's County prosecutor prior to his eight years as executive.
Leslie Johnson was just recently elected to the nine-member Prince George's County Council.
"We socialize with them and it's just shocking," a female neighbor of the Johnsons told CNN affiliate WUSA on Friday. "They're very nice people, very kind people."
The 10-page affidavit says the FBI began investigating Johnson in 2006 when it learned that certain real estate developers were paying Johnson for contracts. That led to "a series of authorizations for the interception of wire communications."
The frantic end began early Friday when Johnson allegedly received a $15,000 payoff, and the FBI suddenly barged into the room to demand an explanation.
Johnson told them the cash was for a party marking the end of his tenure as county executive. He also claimed he had no dealings with the developer who was with him.
The FBI says Johnson made a series of false statements. The agents let him go but then eavesdropped on a series of frantic phone calls between the couple as Jack Johnson and the FBI headed for the Johnsons' Mitchellville home.
"Two women (agents) are at the door," Leslie told her husband.
"Don't answer it," Jack said. He told her to run upstairs to their bedroom and go to "my drawer."
"You will see a check in there that (an unidentified developer) wrote to me," he said.
The affidavit says that when Leslie found the check, Jack told her to tear it up. "Do you want me to put it down the toilet?" she asked. Jack Johnson replied, "Yes, flush that." The agents monitoring the phone calls heard a flushing sound.
Leslie Johnson grabbed cash from the bedroom and also ran to the basement and grabbed more cash. "Put in your bra and walk out or something, I don't know what to do," Jack Johnson said.
"I have it in my bra," his wife replied.
Agents then searched Leslie Johnson and found $79,600 in her underwear, the FBI affidavit says.
The wild ending may end up costing the Johnsons. The FBI says there is probable cause to believe that the pair "tampered with ... evidence and engaged in destruction, alteration, and falsification of records in a federal investigation."
The FBI document does not say how much money Johnson may have received in kickbacks or bribes. It does say at least some of the funds involved were targeted from an $80 million budget for programs supported by federal grants such as those from Department of Housing and Community Development.
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CNN's Terry Frieden contributed to this report.
CNN's Terry Frieden contributed to this report.
Yahoo News/The Upshot
by Michael Calderone
Glenn Beck has railed many times against George Soros, a Hungarian-American financier and liberal philanthropist whom the conservative host dubs the "progressive puppet master."
But Beck ramped up his criticism this week on Fox News and his radio show, making comments about how Soros survived in Nazi-occupied Hungary that have provoked denunciations from Jewish organizations.
Beck said on the radio Wednesday that Soros—as a 13-year-old Jewish boy, living apart from his parents in order to avoid apprehension by the Nazis—"used to go around with this anti-Semite and deliver papers to the Jews and confiscate their property and then ship them off. … It was frightening. Here's a Jewish boy helping send the Jews to the death camps."
Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a Holocaust survivor, called Beck's comments "completely inappropriate, offensive and over the top." [See update]
"While I, too, may disagree with many of Soros' views and analysis on the issues, to bring in this kind of innuendo about his past is unacceptable," Foxman said.Â "To hold a young boy responsible for what was going on around him during the Holocaust as part of a larger effort to denigrate the man is repugnant."
Soros has spoken publicly about how he escaped the death camps by posing as a member of a Christian family. The teenager did accompany his protector, whose job was to confiscate property from Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary.
Steve Kroft, in a 1998 "60 Minutes" interview, told Soros that it sounded like "an experience that would send lots of people to the psychiatric couch for many, many years." But Soros said that he doesn't feel guilty for what happened because "whether I was there or not, I was only a spectator; the property was being taken away."
Beck, who on Tuesday described Soros' actions in the 1940s on Fox News, also claimed not to be "making a judgment" and acknowledged that the teenage Soros "was surviving."
Fox News defended Beck on Thursday in a statement to the New York Times.
Joel Cheatwood, a senior vice president at Fox News, told the Times that "information regarding Mr. Soros's experiences growing up were taken directly from his writings and from interviews given by him to the media, and no negative opinion was offered as to his actions as a child."
It's not the first time Cheatwood has defended Beck this year before over comments relating to the Holocaust.
The Upshot reported in August that Cheatwood and Fox News Chief Executive Roger Ailes met privately with three Jewish leaders over Beck's comments about the Holocaust. (Beck has a habit of referencing Nazis, Hitler and the Holocaust, as the Washington Post pointed out in July).
Simon Greer, chief executive of the liberal Jewish Funds for Justice, told The Upshot at the time that Ailes and Cheatwood acknowledged that Beck crossed a line when comparing Greer's views to those of the Nazis. Greer praised Ailes and Cheatwood, saying that "they took things very seriously, and I have a lot of respect for that."
But Fox News disagreed with Greer's takeaway. Fox News representatives didn't respond to requests for comment before publication, but Cheatwood—shortly after The Upshot item went online—contradicted Greer's version of the meeting in comments to TVNewser. "We absolutely stood behind Glenn Beck 1,000%," he said.
Greer said in August that after his meeting with Fox News executives, Beck sent him a handwritten note regarding the discussion with Cheatwood and that he intended to keep the message private. But because of Beck's latest Holocaust remarks, Greer is now revealing the contents of the letter. It reads: "Simon, Joel shared the details of your meeting yesterday. Please know that I understand the sensitivity and sacred nature of this dark chapter in Human History. Thank you for your candor and helpful thoughts."
Greer's organization has also been critical of Beck this week. In a statement, Greer said that Beck had "grotesquely" mischaracterized Soros' experience hiding from the Nazis and is now "engaged in a form of Holocaust revisionism."
By phone, Greer reiterated that he hadn't intended to reveal the contents of Beck's letter. But for Greer, Beck's remarks about Soros "made a mockery of whatever sensitivity he's claimed he has had." Since he's "trying to attack a 13-year-old as sending his people to death camps," Greer said, "I don't owe him any debt to keep the communication personal."
A Fox News spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
UPDATE: Speaking of private letters, Beck's site The Blaze just published a letter that Foxman wrote to the host in October. Foxman described Beck as a "friend of the Jewish people, and a friend of Israel."
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(Photo of Beck in February: AP/Jose Luis Magana. Photo of Beck's letter courtesy of Simon Greer.)
The high court denied a request from a gay rights group, the Log Cabin Republicans to block enforcement of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy amid reports that a Defence Department panel has found the military would suffer no harm to current war efforts if it lifted the 17-year-old ban.
As a result, the policy will remain in place until at least mid-March, when a lower court is expected to issue a ruling after briefings and hearings.
"The way President Obama's Department of Justice downplays the irreparable harm done to service members by 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is a slap in the face to gay and lesbian Americans who sacrifice to serve our nation," said R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans.
"This failed policy is unconstitutional because it deprives soldiers, sailors, airmen, coast guardsmen and marines the fundamental rights that all Americans hold dear, the exact same rights our armed forces defend with their lives."
The White House is pushing for repeal of the policy in a year-end session of Congress, before Republicans gain control of the House of Representatives when a new Congress convenes in January.
Last month, a federal judge issued an injunction of the law after saying it infringed on the civil liberties of gay and lesbians, but a federal appeals court stayed the court's order and said the policy could remain in place while it considers an appeal from President Barack Obama's administration.
Shortly after the injunction was issued, the Pentagon announced it was accepting openly gay recruits for the first time in US history, but also urged caution for gay troops amid the legal uncertainties.
US public opinion polls have found broad support for scrapping the 17-year-old ban.
A Jewish doctor in the North Rhine-Westphalian city of Paderborn has reportedly walked out of a surgery after discovering a Nazi tattoo on the arm of a patient.
A 36-year-old man needing an operation was tattooed with the image of the Reichsadler, or Imperial Eagle, perched upon a swastika, daily Bild reported on Friday.
The patient’s 46-year-old doctor said he could not reconcile proceeding with the surgery with his conscience, the paper reported.
“I will not operate on your husband,” the doctor told the man’s wife. “I’m Jewish.”
The doctor then had another physician finish the procedure, Bild reported.
Since the end of World War II the public display of Nazi party symbols, such as the swastika, have been forbidden in Germany, and carries punishment of up to three years in prison. The eagle, which was a German national symbol long before the Third Reich, is now called the Bundesadler.