Ken Johnson Corruption Trial Rests With Federal Jury

Cleveland City Councilman Ken Johnson in 2017
Ken Johnson has served as a Cleveland City Councilman since 1980. [Nick Castele / Ideastream Public Media file photo]
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The federal corruption and tax fraud case against suspended Cleveland City Councilman Ken Johnson and his aide, Garnell Jamison, is now waiting for the jury’s decision.

Deliberation began late Thursday on 15 counts against Johnson and 11 against Jamison.

Johnson is charged with allegedly running two separate, years-long schemes to embezzle public funds. Jamison was allegedly involved in one of those thefts. Both are charged with multiple counts of tax fraud and witness tampering.

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

The first alleged scheme involved reimbursements from Cleveland City Council. According to prosecutors, Johnson submitted monthly expense reports between 2010 and 2018 that included timesheets for ward services that were never performed.

The man who signed those timesheets, Robert Fitzpatrick, testified earlier in the week that he was never paid by Johnson for the work he performed, and eventually stopped doing the work altogether while timesheets continued to be submitted to council in his name.

According to prosecutors, Johnson submitted about 450 timesheets and more than 100 receipts for reimbursements for money he claimed to have paid to Fitzpatrick, with no documented transactions going from Johnson to Fitzpatrick.

Johnson’s attorney claimed Fitzpatrick lied to investigators after they caught him submitting fraudulent timesheets while on vacation in Florida.

“Sometimes the people closest to you will hurt you,” said Johnson’s attorney Myron Watson.

Watson argued the reimbursements went to Fitzpatrick, Johnson just conducted most business in cash. He described a public servant who’s spent the past 50 years helping people in the community.

“So when the government wants to tell you he wanted to defraud the people he was serving, it just doesn’t add up,” Watson said.

The second alleged scheme involved only Johnson and the now-shuttered Buckeye-Shaker Square Development Corporation.

According to prosecutors, Johnson used most of the money that went into the local development corporation to enrich himself or his children. It’s against federal law for family members of public officials to hold jobs in organizations that receive federal funding.

Johnson’s attorney argued the former councilman knew that could get him in trouble and tried to prevent it.

“Councilman Johnson was assured and promised the money going to pay the kids would only come from private funds,” Watson said.

Regardless of the source, prosecutors argued, the money Johnson's family members received came from the same CDC account that included federal funding.

The next series of charges are for tax fraud – for failing to report the reimbursement money and for inflating the value of items including donated cars or sports equipment to lower Johnson’s tax burden.

And finally both are charged with tampering with evidence and influencing a witness in preparation for the grand jury hearing in this case last year.

During closing arguments, Johnson and Jamison’s attorneys argued the two defendants were sloppy with paperwork and accounting, but they never meant to steal money.

“This man has spent nearly 50 years in public service,” Watson said. “We could have marched hundreds of people in here about the good this man did.”

A verdict could come as early as Friday.

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