The veteran politician is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 8, and faces up to 10 years in federal prison.
AKRON, Ohio — Editor’s note: Video at the top of this story was originally published on July 29, 2021.
Cleveland City Councilman Ken Johnson has been found guilty on all 15 counts he faced in the federal corruption trial against him.
The verdict was announced Friday afternoon at the federal courthouse in Akron.
The 75-year-old Johnson was convicted of two counts of conspiracy to commit federal program theft, six counts of federal program theft, five counts of aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns, one count of tampering with a witness and one count of falsification of records in a federal investigation.
Following the jury’s decision, Cleveland City Council released a statement that said:
“A federal jury convicted Kenneth Johnson today of corruption and tax charges. Johnson’s executive assistant, Garnell Jamison, was also convicted of similar charges.
“Under Ohio law the felony conviction means Johnson is no longer a council member. 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.”
Johnson was indicted back in February, along with Jamison, who worked for Johnson for more than 20 years. Jamison was convicted of eleven counts, including federal program theft, aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns, tampering with a witness and falsification of records in a federal investigation.
Johnson was accused of defrauding taxpayers through three schemes that prosecutors say netted him more than $150,000. Among the prosecution’s key witnesses were former city employee Robert Fitzpatrick, who lived with Johnson as a boy and considered him a father; and John Hopkins, the former executive director of Buckeye-Shaker Square Development Corporation, a now-defunct nonprofit that once worked to revitalize the Buckeye and Shaker Square neighborhoods.
Fitzpatrick testified he signed fake timesheets that prosecutors say allowed Johnson to claim reimbursements from City Council. Johnson then submitted the timesheets and receipts — which Fitzpatrick testified he never signed — as evidence of out-pocket-expenses, prosecutors said.
Johnson told City Council he paid Fitzpatrick to monitor and maintain vacant lots in his east side ward. The councilman received $1,200 a month for eight years as reimbursement for paying Fitzpatrick, paperwork shows.
Fitzpatrick also testified that Jamison, on behalf Johnson, asked him each year to sign and file tax paperwork asserting he got paid for the work corresponding to the fake timesheets. Fitzpatrick said he paid the taxes on the reported income, though he never received a penny from Johnson. He added he was frustrated paying the tax bill each year, but went along with the scheme out of loyalty to the councilman.
Hopkins testified the nonprofit relied on money from the city earmarked by Johnson, and therefore felt beholden to him. Hopkins also said he continued to pay salaries and bonuses to three of Johnson’s children for landscaping work with money from the city, even though the nonprofit was nearly broke and such payments violated federal rules.
Fitzpatrick and Hopkins pleaded guilty to their roles in the schemes prior to trial.
Prosecutors said Johnson deposited some of his sons’ checks — totaling more than $30,000 — into his own bank account without their knowledge. Testimony and documents showed at least one son was elsewhere while his timesheets claimed he was working for Buckeye Shaker-Square Development.
Prosecutors argued Johnson ran a third scheme that involved inflating the value of tax deductions and under-reporting, claiming he owes more than $90,000 in back taxes. They said among Johnson’s false claims was a $21,000 deduction on his 2015 taxes for kitchen equipment and renovation work he said he donated to the Kenneth L. Johnson Recreation Center. That same year, Johnson also took a deduction for an old piano he donated to the center, asserting its value at $10,000.
Johnson is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 8. He faces up to 10 years in prison, but remains a free man until then.