Mar 21, 2022 - News

Philly Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson's bribery trial gets underway

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson
Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson speaks inside the Council Chambers at City Hall on Sept. 19, 2019. Photo courtesy of Jared Piper/Philadelphia City Council Flickr

Jury selection begins Monday for the federal corruption trial of Philadelphia Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson and his wife Dawn Chavous.

What's happening: Johnson, a three-term Democrat who represents District 2, and Chavous are facing charges related to a quid-pro-quo scheme tied to a nonprofit and charter school operator that prosecutors say swapped cash for political favors.

  • Both face bribery charges, but Chavous is also facing racketeering and wire fraud charges.
  • They have both pleaded not guilty.

The big picture: Johnson is the second councilmember to face corruption charges in federal court over the last year.

Flashback: Federal prosecutors charged Johnson, Chavous and a pair of executives from the educational nonprofit Universal Companies in early 2020.

  • Prosecutors allege that Johnson and Chavous accepted more than $66,000 in bribes from Universal Companies, and the nonprofit concealed the payments by hiring Chavous as a consultant, according to the indictment.
  • In exchange, Johnson allegedly passed legislation to boost the resale value of one of Universal Companies' properties and helped protect other properties from seizure.

What they're saying: "We are very pleased to finally get our day in court and have the truth come out before the public, which will show that the councilman did nothing wrong," said Patrick Egan, Johnson's attorney.

  • It remains unclear whether Johnson will take the stand.
  • "That's a trial strategy decision," Egan said.

What's ahead: Johnson will maintain his official duties as normal during the trial, which is expected to last three or four weeks.

  • Whether he will take part in legislative sessions and hearings is uncertain and will depend on his daily availability, his spokesperson, Vincent Thompson, said.
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