Cleveland City Councilor Ken Johnson was arrested Tuesday morning by local FBI officials after a federal grand jury charged him with 15 corruption charges.
The Justice Department said the charges stem from a scheme in which Johnson and his assistant Garnell Jamison defrauded the city by filing false monthly expense reports for a decade. Johnson received the monthly maximum of $ 1,200 in reimbursement for "ward services" that were never performed. Johnson is also said to have benefited from federal dollars that he directed to Buckeye Shaker Square Development Corporation.
Johnson, Jamison and former Buckeye Shaker Square Development Corporation head John Hopkins were arrested Tuesday. Johnson is expected to appear in federal court via videoconference on Tuesday.
"The allegations set out in today's indictment describe the use of public office for personal gain," said acting US attorney Bridget M. Brennan in a DOJ press release. "Such behavior can provide a temporary financial benefit to those involved, but it damages public confidence in the elected officials."
Equally pernicious is undoubtedly the fact that these alleged crimes and a host of related corrupt activities have been open for nearly three years. Former Cleveland.com columnist Mark Naymik broke a new scandalous Ken Johnson story daily during the summer and fall of 2018, and little was done about it. Johnson was allowed to keep his advice sinecure, where he's been double-immersed since 2013, without any impact.
Talk about damaging public trust in elected officials!
The city issued statements investigating the allegations in Naymik's coverage, and Council Chairman Kevin Kelley stopped allowing monthly reimbursements to avoid a cascade of negative PR and deeper investigation reports. An outside auditor subsequently found that a number of councilors other than Johnson, including Kelley, had not properly filed their monthly expense reports. Joe Jones, Kevin Bishop, Kerry McCormack, Mike Polensek, Anthony Hairston, Dona Brady, Anthony Brancatelli, Jasmin Santana and Brian Kazy were also named.
Kelley then vowed to tighten the rules for these monthly reimbursements.
The entire Cleveland City Council should be squirming at this moment. You probably know the FBI made the rounds in Ohio and that Ken Johnson may very well be the first domino to fall in Cleveland. In 2020, Cincinnati was shaken when three council members were accused of accepting bribes related to development deals. Four councilors in Toledo were also charged with bribery and extortion last year. Who's next?
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