Federal prosecutors indict Philly Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, wife

Pat Loeb
January 29, 2020 - 11:24 am
Kenyatta Johnson

Pat Loeb/KYW Newsradio


UPDATED 6:40 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Federal prosecutors have charged another Philadelphia city councilmember with using the office for personal gain. The target this time, Kenyatta Johnson, has denied any wrongdoing. 

A federal grand jury charges both Johnson and his wife, Dawn Chavous, with two counts each of honest services fraud. Prosecutors say Johnson agreed to introduce a zoning change needed by officials of the Universal Charter School company, in exchange for $66,000. 

"This indictment charges that Universal Companies was hijacked in order to commit these crimes of corruption and greed with the support and necessary participation of Kenyatta Johnson," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Williams said.

Williams says the bribe was paid via a contract between Universal and Chavous' consulting firm.

"The indictment alleges that this consulting agreement was a sham, that Chavous did very little work for Universal, and that the arrangement was simply a way for Universal to funnel bribe payments to Johnson," Williams said.

Johnson had been expecting the charges and denied them in advance in a public announcement on Tuesday.

And on Wednesday, Johnson held a news conference to proclaim his innocence.

The news conference included testimony from several clergymen about Johnson's good character and a hint that the charges were part of a pattern. 

"We can go all the way back to Paul Robeson and through King and through all the leaders, you've been picked out to be picked on," said one clergyman. 

Johnson confirmed that he will not resign and will plead not guilty. 

"I'm relieved that we're actually moving forward to fight, to clear me and my family's name," he said.

Johnson is the second member of the sitting City Council to be under indictment, joining Bobby Henon, who is charged in the electricians' union case.

Council President Darrell Clarke issued a statement, saying the charges must be taken seriously but allegations are not proof, and Johnson is entitled to due process.

Councilmember Curtis Jones, perhaps Johnson's best friend on council, said, "The first thing I thought of was his dedication to his two sons and how that kind of problem shatters the tranquility of a family."

Jones added, no doubt speaking for many of his colleagues, that people are innocent until proven guilty.