Now that guilty verdicts have completed the saga of the John Dougherty and Bobby Henon corruption case, all eyes are on the more than two-year-old federal indictment of Philly Councilman Kenyatta Johnson.
In 2019, Acting United States Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams charged Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and his wife, political consultant Dawn Chavous, along with alleged coconspirators Abdur Rahim Islam and Shahied Dawan, with a 22-count indictment. The feds allege Johnson took part in a wide-ranging racketeering conspiracy and related crimes, including bribery, honest services fraud, wire fraud, and tax offenses.
The charges stem from criminal schemes allegedly orchestrated by Islam and Dawan that included thousands of dollars in bribes to public officials and the misappropriation of hundreds of thousands of dollars from their organization, Universal Companies.
“As alleged in the Indictment, Universal Companies, including its real estate and education arms, constituted a RICO enterprise, hijacked by the defendants Islam and Dawan to engage in a pattern of criminal activity that spanned two states and several years,” said Abbitter Williams “In pursuing their criminal objectives, Islam and Dawan bribed public officials, including Johnson, with Universal’s funds, and hid those bribes as consulting fees paid through Chavous’s consulting firm.”
Johnson’s case exposes an all-too-common tale of corruption and graft that leaves little room for fair representation for regular Philadelphians — which begs the question as to why Johnson has been allowed to occupy his seat and collect a salary from taxpayers in the two years since his indictment. Islam and Dawan are charged with bribing Johnson and his spouse, Dawn Chavous, in excess of $66,000, in exchange for Johnson using his public office to take official actions to benefit their company. This included Johnson introducing and voting for controversial “spot zoning legislation” related to the Royal Theater, then owned by Universal, and blocking reversion to the City of Philadelphia of another property held by Universal after it failed to develop the property in accordance with its agreement with the city.
Johnson’s case exposes an all-too-common tale of corruption and graft that leaves little room for fair representation for regular Philadelphians…
In turn, Johnson and his wife allegedly used the money they took from Universal to pay down mortgage, loan and credit card debts.
“What we have here is four people pretending their motives were purely civic-minded, when, in fact, they were unlawfully conspiring to enrich themselves,” said Christian D. Zajac, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “As alleged in the indictment, Abdur Rahim Islam and Shahied Dawan stole nearly half a million dollars from Universal — money for themselves, and to use as bribes to further their financial pursuits. Councilman Kenyatta Johnson accepted their payoffs and based his official actions on those bribes, with [his wife] providing him cover.”
Councilman Johnson and his wife face up to 40 years in prison and/or a $500,000 fine.
While the Johnson indictment and the Dougherty/Henon case are a feather in the cap for federal law enforcement, these cases reveal a more pressing issue for Philadelphians: a total lack of oversight from city and state officials. In the last month, we have watched the region’s most powerful political donor and a sitting city council member convicted for a myriad of corruption charges, as well as seen District Attorney Krasner’s campaign fined for an illegal campaign finance violation covered by local media —all while Johnson awaits trial. Given Dougherty’s political reach, how many other shoes could drop next?
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Furthermore, how could a city with an “ethics czar,” an inspector general’s office, a district attorney’s office, and a board of ethics completely miss any of the red flags pointing to these and a myriad of other corruption cases? Worse, given that Attorney General Josh Shapiro has received over $250,000 in campaign contributions from Dougherty’s union, Local 98, the fact that there have been no state efforts to address this rampant corruption raises red flags, to say the least.
If public trust is ever to be restored in our city and state government, strong checks and balances need to be implemented in Philadelphia and Harrisburg. This may mean that our state needs to look at best practices from elsewhere to assure that measures exist to hold public officials accountable when our elected attorney general and various district attorneys will not.
A. Benjamin Mannes, MA, CPP, CESP, is a Subject Matter Expert in Security & Criminal Justice Reform based on his own experiences on both sides of the criminal justice system. He has served as a federal and municipal law enforcement officer and was the former Director, Office of Investigations with the American Board of Internal Medicine. @PublicSafetySME