West Philly state representative to plead guilty to corruption charges, resign

Tony Romeo
December 04, 2019 - 10:15 am
Josh Shapiro announces corruption charges against Pa. state Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell.

Tony Romeo/KYW Newsradio

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UPDATED: 12:45 p.m.

HARRISBURG, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — Pennsylvania’s attorney general says West Philadelphia state Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell will plead guilty and resign after being charged with theft, perjury and other offenses related to a non-profit organization she founded. 

Attorney General Josh Shapiro called the case against Johnson-Harrell one of "brazen corruption," accusing her of stealing from the non-profit organization Motivations, Education and Consultation Associates, known as MECA.

"MECA's actual mission was to serve as a cash account for Johnson-Harrell’s own personal use,” Shapiro said.

She is alleged to have spent more than $500,000 on vacations, designer clothes, fur coats, payments on a Porsche, and other personal expenses — money that was intended to help people who are mentally ill, poor and fighting addiction. 

As she spent that money on herself, the attorney general says personal care homes for people with serious medical issues operated by her non-profit and funded by Medicaid and Social Security dollars were forced to close due to squalid, unlivable conditions. 

Shapiro says Johnson-Harrell continued to collect rent payments from MECA funds for the properties even though MECA no longer used them, while residents of the care homes were left to find new living arrangements.

Court papers say the theft went on for years.

Shapiro says Johnson-Harrell has agreed to plead guilty but details of that plea have yet to be worked out.

City officials say they were shocked by the charges against Johnson-Harrell.

Councilmember Curtis Jones, who leapt to Johnson-Harrell's defense last year, when one of her Republican colleagues seemed to criticize her Muslim faith, said he feels for Johnson-Harrell's family, but he is most concerned about the people in her district.

"The people of the 190th have experienced a great deal of turnover and insecurity about who is going to represent them in Harrisburg," he said. "This happens to be one of the poorest districts in the city of Philadelphia, happens to be one of the poorest areas in my councilmanic district, so solid representation is essential."

The 53-year-old Democrat won a special election in March after Vanessa Lowery Brown resigned from the West Philadelphia district following a bribery conviction. 

Democratic Party chair Bob Brady says he knows the party has to do better in finding a replacement for Johnson-Harrell.

"We're going to have to get this right, without question. We're going to have to really go through whatever candidates are coming and have to vet them, vet them extremely hard," he said.

"We did vet her and even (Larry) Krasner, the district attorney, gave us a recommendation, said she was fine. So we have to dig a little more deep, especially on this district."

Krasner had hired Johnson-Harrell to run the victim advocate unit of his office. She resigned, last year, to run for the state House. Krasner's office has not responded to requests for comment.

Johnson-Harrell is the first female Muslim member of the state House. And she is active in a foundation that fights gun violence named for her 18-year-old son, who was shot to death in 2011.

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KYW Newasradio's Pat Loeb and the Associated Press contributed to this report.