By Ralph Cipriano
PHILADELPHIA, PA – Recently resigned Pennsylvania State Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell is a friend, former employee and loyal political ally of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. So did the D.A.’s office do her a favor last year when they ignored an obvious conflict of interest and let her son off the hook by declining to prosecute him in a domestic violence case?
It sure looks like it.
Johnson-Harrell, 53, the first Muslim woman elected to the state legislature, made headlines last month when she resigned her office during her first term. The resignation came a day after she pleaded guilty to charges of theft by deception, perjury, and tampering with public records in connection with stealing $500,000 from a nonprofit she founded to allegedly helping people struggling with mental illness, drug addiction and homelessness.
But instead of helping the less fortunate, prosecutors said, Johnson-Harrell spent the money on her campaign for state rep, as well as for fox fur coats, vacations to Mexico, designer clothes, and past-due payments on her Porsche. “Brazen corruption,” was how State Attorney General Josh Shapiro described it to reporters. “Her theft knew no bounds,” he said, adding that she was also actively engaged in covering up her crimes.
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Johnson-Harrell was sentenced todayto spend 11 to 23 months in jail, plus two years probation.
But before she got elected to the state house of representatives, in 2018 and 2019, according to her official online biography, Johnson-Harrell served under Krasner as the supervisor in the D.A.’s victim and witness services and restorative justice unit.
She was in that job on Nov. 11, 2018 when her son, Donte Lee Johnson, 29, was arrested and charged with assault for allegedly punching a 27 year-old woman in the face. According to statements, the victim was the mother of Johnson’s child.
Johnson was arrested after two officers on patrol responded to a radio call for a person screaming in the 6000 block of Elmwood Avenue. When the cops showed up, the victim stated that Johnson had threatened her by saying, “Stop playing with me.” Then he shoved her, before he punched her in the face, drawing blood.
In a statement the victim gave the police, she said, “I was punched in the face” and that she had suffered a “cut on my left interior of my mouth where he punched me.”
“He came to my job acting crazy,” the victim told police. “He came to my job saying our son had to go to the hospital. He only said this to get me outside, because I went outside he started asking to see my phone. He wanted to see my text messages. He hauled off and punched me in the face. We were struggling for a minute during which he pulled my hair. Someone called the police. The police showed up and arrested him.”
Johnson was arrested and freed on $1,000 bail. On Jan. 28, 2019, however, when the case went to court before Judge David C. Shuter, according to court records, prosecution was withdrawn by an assistant district attorney after a witness failed to appear.
The identity of the witness who failed to appear is a mystery.
A former state representative faces three months in the Philadelphia jail after pleading guilty Thursday to charges she took money from a charity she established for the needy and spent it on vacations, clothing and other personal needs.https://t.co/BhocsrKkgp
— Action News on 6abc (@6abc) January 23, 2020
It wasn’t the victim, who could not be reached for comment. According to a source familiar with the investigation, the victim was never contacted or subpoenaed by the D.A.’s office prior to the court date; nor was she ever notified that the D.A. was planning to drop the case.
In addition, a 51-year-old neighbor who showed up after the assault and told police he saw Johnson chasing the victim, pushing her, and preventing her from going back inside, said in a phone interview that he was never asked or summoned to appear in court.
On top of that, the assistant district attorneys prosecuting the case also didn’t subpoena either of the two police officers who investigated the incident, witnessed the victim’s injuries and arrested Johnson.
Is that about as close as you can come to throwing a case?
But there’s another problem with the way the D.A. handled this.
Because Johnson-Harrell was a supervisor in the D.A.’s office at the time of the alleged crime, it would have been an obvious conflict of interest for the D.A.’s office to prosecute her son. What the D.A.’s office should have done was recuse itself, and refer the case to the state attorney general for prosecution.
Besides working for the D.A., Johnson-Harrell also was a campaign contributor, donating $2,500 to Krasner’s campaign for D.A. The day the case against Johnson was dismissed, Jan. 28, 2019, was only four days after Johnson-Harrell had resigned from the D.A.’s office.
Does this case stink or what?
What does the D.A. have to say about this obvious conflict of interest and apparent favor done for one its own supervisors? As usual, the D.A.’s office continues to stonewall. D.A. Krasner and two of his alleged spokespersons, Jane Roh and Cameron Kline, did not respond to a request for comment.
This is not the first time mother and son have made the news.
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Back in 2018, the Inquirer reported that a West Philadelphia personal care home opened in 2013 by Johnson-Harrell was abruptly closed after state investigators responding to a complaint found no staff on duty and unsanitary conditions.
The state had been threatening to shut down the home. The abrupt closure prompted an investigation by the state attorney general. That office stepped in after the state Department of Human Services moved nine mentally ill residents out of the facility to a new location. The operator of the home was the nonprofit that Johnson-Harrell would eventually plead guilty to stealing money from. The state had not been notified about the closing, officials said at the time.
The day the state closed the facility, Johnson-Harrell told the Inquirer she had already resigned from the nonprofit, and she referred questions to a “Donte Lee,” who did not respond to the newspaper’s questions.
On the nonprofit’s 990, Johnson-Harrell was listed as president, and three of her children were listed as employees.
Even after the home was closed, as the owner of the property, Johnson-Harrell continued to collect monthly rent payments from her nonprofit totaling $50,000, according to the state attorney general.
While Johnson-Harrell’s crimes remain in the news, the assault case against her son for domestic violence no longer appears on court records.
But some earlier transgressions remain.
In 2013, Johnson was arrested in Delaware County for assault and harassment. He was referred to an ARD program, and the charges were dismissed. In 2017, he was again arrested in Delaware County and pleaded guilty to DUI, driving under a controlled substance, and put on probation for a maximum of six months.
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