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Cleveland City Councilman Ken Johnson Pleads Not Guilty To Federal Charges

Cleveland City Councilman Ken Johnson was indicted in a federal investigation into his use of community development dollars. [Matt Richmond / ideastream]
Cleveland City Councilman Ken Johnson was indicted in a federal investigation into his use of community development dollars.

Updated: 3:28 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021

A federal grand jury has indicted Cleveland City Councilman Ken Johnson on charges that he conspired to steal city money and federal community development dollars, according to U.S. District Court documents unsealed Tuesday.

Johnson was arrested Tuesday morning and pleaded not guilty by videoconference in federal court in the afternoon.

U.S. District Judge John R. Adams ordered him released pending trial on a $20,000 bond and restricted him from traveling outside the Northern District of Ohio.

The 15-count indictment accuses Johnson of federal program theft, aiding in the preparation of a false tax return, witness tampering and other offenses.

Prosecutors accuse Johnson of submitting false city council expense reports with the help of his longtime executive assistant, Garnell Jamison, who is also charged in the indictment. 

Johnson claimed the maximum $1,200 in expenses monthly from January 2010 to October 2018, according to the indictment, allegedly receiving a total of $127,200.

The reimbursements were for payments Johnson falsely claimed to have made to a city recreation employee for services in Ward 4, such as cutting grass, according to the indictment.

That employee, Robert Fitzpatrick, pleaded guilty earlier this month to a count of conspiracy to commit federal program theft.

Prosecutors also allege Johnson personally benefitted from federal funds he directed to the Buckeye Shaker Square Development Corporation, a community improvement nonprofit in his ward.

Buckeye Shaker Square Development Corporation purported to use those funds to reimburse several people for performing services in the ward, prosecutors allege. But instead, the money went to a PNC Bank account controlled by Johnson, according to the indictment.

The grand jury also indicted John Hopkins, the nonprofit’s executive director, on conspiracy and federal program theft charges.

“The allegations set forth in today’s indictment detail the exploitation of public office for personal gain,” Acting U.S. Attorney Bridget M. Brennan said in a Tuesday morning press release announcing the charges. “Such conduct may bring about a temporary financial benefit for those involved, but it harms the public’s confidence in its elected officials.”

Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley on Tuesday stripped Johnson of his chairmanship of council’s municipal services and property committee, which oversees city parks.

Kelley pledged he would ensure Ward 4 residents continue to receive representation and services in brief statement after news of Johnson’s arrest broke.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.