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New Orleans City Councillor Jon Johnson Pleads Guilty to Felony Charges, Resigns

by Shay Sokol (Updated 2:40 p.m.)

City Councillor Jon Johnson resigned his seat this morning after pleading guilty to using FEMA funds awarded to his nonprofit, the Ninth Ward Housing Development Corporation, to pay for his State Senate campaign in 2007, according to court documents. Johnson represents District E - which includes eastern New Orleans and the Lower 9th Ward - on the Council and was elected in 2010.


Johnson, a former state Senator and Representative who did not hold public office at the time of the wrongodoing, is charged with conspiracy to commit theft of government funds and submit false documents to the federal government.


Briefing the media following Letten's court hearing before Judge Lance Africk, U.s. Attorney Jim Letten said it is not known how much Johnson stole, only the methods that he used. In a statement, Johnson said he stole $13,000.


Documents filed this morning in federal court state Johnson deposited about $130,000 in post-Katrina grant money that was paid for gutting and debris removal at a Ninth Ward property called the Semmes building, located at 1008 Jourdan Avenue, into a bank account for the nonprofit.


Johnson then used some of that money to pay campaign expenses. About $16,000 also flowed from the Ninth Ward organization into a second non-profit bank account that Johnson controlled for the New Orleans Health Corporation. Johnson also used that money for campaign expenses. 


The charges are not limited to Johnson's non-profits. Letten also said Johnson "completely concocted false documents" to the federal Small Business Administration to document the use of money he received for his personal residence. The false paperwork was submitted in July, 2008, according to court documents.


Johnson faces up to five years in prison. He will submit his resignation to City Hall today. Johnson first indicated he would be done with his job at City Hall Monday, but by the end of the day the Council said the resignation was effective immediately. Sentencing is scheduled for October 25.


Johnson did not address the press following the hearing. In a statement, Johnson said he has been aware of the investigation "for sometime now."


“I am hopeful that when all of the facts are known, it will be found that my positive efforts to help these two charitable organizations, my many civic activities, and my years of honest service to my city and state outweigh my transgressions," the statement said.


Two others, Roy Lewis and Johnson's bookkeeper Asif Gafur are also being charged in connection with the conspiracy. Lewis is being charged with misprision of a felony, and Gafur is accuse of structruring financial transactions to evade a reporting requirement.


"This is evidence of our absolute zero tolerance for corruption," Letten said.


Resignation Leaves Vacancy

By the afternoon, the City Council indicated they would call a special election to fill the vacancy on Election Day (November 6). Until then, the Council will be tasked with appointing an interim District E member. When the body was required to carry out that task in May upon Stacy Head's election to an at-large seat, Johnson and City Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell refused to show up to several Council meetings, denying the Council a quorum and forcing the appointment into the hands of Mayor Mitch.


At least three of the candidates from March's contest to fill a vacant at-large seat left by Arnie Fielkow reside in District E. Cynthia Willard-Lewis, who narrowly lost the runoff in that election to Head, held the seat from 2003-2010. State Rep. Austin Badon, who also ran for mayor in the past, and Mitch Landrieu cousin Gary Landrieu, also ran unsuccessfully in that election. Former Congressman Joseph Cao, who lost to Cedric Richmond in 2010, is also a District E resident.

Diogenes has just left the

Diogenes has just left the N.O. political scene, and his quest still continues.........

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