(WJBK) - A federal grand jury has indicted state Sen. Bert Johnson on public corruption charges amid accusations that he hired a 'ghost employee'.
Johnson, a 43-year old Democrat representing Highland Park, Detroit, Hamtramck, Harper Woods and the Grosse Pointes, is accused of receiving funds that were paid to an employee in his state Senate office. The feds say the employee, who is no longer on the Senate payroll, did not earn the money.
The indictment accuses Johnson of borrowing thousands of dollars from someone who the feds did not name, and then putting that person on his staff as “ghost employee” who did no work for the state salary. The person was paid $23,000 in taxpayer money.
“Theft of taxpayer’s money by elected public officials, as these charges allege, is disheartening and will not be tolerated,” said acting U.S. Attorney Dan Lemisch.
"Today’s indictment is an unfortunate reminder that public officials sometimes squander the public’s trust in exchange for personal gain", said David P. Gelios, Special Agent in Charge, Detroit Division of the FBI. “Rooting out public corruption at all levels of government is an investigative priority of the FBI.”
“Senator Johnson’s alleged actions abused the trust of his constituents and amounted to simple theft,” said IRS-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Manny Muriel of the Detroit Field Office.
Fox 2 has been investigating Johnson since December 2015 when we learned that Glynis Thornton, a contractor who was charged with paying kickbacks to an Education Achievement Authority official, was on the Senate payroll as an employee of Johnson at the same time she was paying kickbacks to Kenyetta Wilbourn Snapp. Wilbourn Snapp has since pleaded guilty to corruption charges and been sentenced. Thornton has not yet been sentenced and is believed to be cooperating in the federal investigation of Johnson.
Johnson could not be reached on his cell phone or at his senate office. His attorney, Cyril Hall, says the senator “vehemently denies the allegations.” He said he believes Thornton is the former employee referred to in the indictment and he said Johnson can prove that she did work for her Senate salary.
Hall said Johnson fired Thornton because she was indicted in the EAA scandal and sent her a lengthy letter thanking her for her service. Hall declined to release a copy of the letter.
Hall said he believes Thornton fabricated the allegations against Johnson in the hope she would receive a lighter sentence in the EAA case. Hall said Johnson has had dozens of employees since he was first elected to the statehouse and all of them have worked for their pay.
He said he expects Johnson to be arraigned early next week in federal court.