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Ken Johnson Found Guilty On 15 Counts In Federal Corruption Trial

Ken Johnson (left) after the jury's decision in Akron Friday. [Matthew Richmond / Ideastream Public Media]
Ken Johnson (left) awaits the jury's decision in Akron Friday. [Matthew Richmond / Ideastream Public Media]

Updated: 4:39 p.m., Friday, July 30, 2021

Longtime Cleveland City Councilman Ken Johnson has been found guilty on all 15 charges in a federal corruption and tax fraud case.

His close aide, Garnell Jamison, was also found guilty on all 11 charges he faced.

A federal jury in Akron deliberated a little over half a day before announcing the verdicts Friday.

Johnson faced charges that he filed fraudulent expense reports with Cleveland City Council for years, misused federal money that went to a local development corporation in Ward 4, filed false tax reports that inflated the value of items he donated to charity and, in a charge added ahead of the grand jury deliberations on the case, tampered with a witness and falsified documents.

A spokesperson for Cleveland City Council said Johnson is now officially no longer a councilmember, a post he’s held since 1980.

“He had been suspended in April by a special commission formed by the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court but was allowed to retain both his title and salary during the suspension. With today’s conviction that is no longer true,” wrote council spokeswoman Joan Mazzolini.

Throughout the trial, prosecutors described Johnson and Jamison as primarily interested in enriching themselves with public funds.

“Time after time, year after year, they chose themselves over their constituents,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Megan Miller during closing arguments Thursday.

Prosecutors focused on Johnson’s years-long theft of public money, with Jamison painted as a loyal co-conspirator.

Speaking to reporters after the verdict, Jamison’s attorney, David Doughten, said his client was convicted for doing what he was asked, but it was hard to overcome his client’s signature on parts of Johnson’s tax filings.

“It’s hard for a jury to believe he was doing so but not aiding and abetting if Johnson’s returns were inaccurate,” Doughten said.

Prosecutors, who declined to comment after the verdict, asked the court to hold Johnson and Jamison in custody until their Oct. 8 sentencing, citing concerns about witness tampering and additional evidence of witness intimidation submitted during the trial.

But the judge released both Johnson and Jamison, forbidding them to have any contact with witnesses for the prosecution or move any assets they own that might go towards paying the back taxes and other debts they now face following the guilty verdict.

Johnson and Jamison declined to comment about the verdict. Johnson’s attorney, Myron Watson, questioned whether the crimes amounted to anything more than sloppy bookkeeping.

“He wanted to help,” Watson said about Johnson. “You ask anybody in that neighborhood, the witnesses that testified who know him, they will tell you that.”

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.