The scandal started with a check flushed down the toilet and a bra stuffed with cash. But in the days since Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson and his wife Leslie were arrested and charged with allegedly trying to destroy or hide evidence, additional arrests have exposed a wide-ranging corruption probe in the D.C. suburbs.
Nine people — including three police officers — were arrested on Monday, accused by the federal government of running drugs, guns, and black-market alcohol and cigarettes. FBI agents also moved to seize more than 30 homes, businesses and vehicles as part of the probe of corruption in the county.
Seven defendants, including two of the police officers, have been charged with conspiring to commit extortion under color of official right in a scheme involving the transport and distribution of untaxed cigarettes and alcohol, said the FBI. Another man and the third officer are charged with a drug and gun conspiracy.
Jack B. Johnson, released from federal custody on Friday, was back at work on Monday, according to his spokesman.
One of those arrested on Monday was Amrik S. Melhi, the owner of several liquor stores — including Tick Tock Liquor and Restaurant in Langley Park, Md. one of the most popular liquor stores in the area.
Melhi and others, according to the federal indictment, paid police officers to ensure that untaxed cigarettes and alcohol were safely transported and distributed in Maryland and Virginia. One of the officers charged worked as an off-duty security guard at one of the liquor stores.
“Police officers are given badges and guns to prevent crimes, but these police officers allegedly used them to commit crimes,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. “The indictment charges that they crossed a bright line from catching criminals to conspiring with criminals.”
Some of the transactions under investigation in the probe may stem from a federal program intended to help developers build affordable housing in the country. The Washington Post reported that Prince George’s County officials awarded about $7 million in federal funding in the past two years to developers for six projects throughout the county. The Prince George’s County HOME program has been plagued with a troubled history.
According to an affidavit, the FBI investigation of Johnson focused on alleged bribes he took for helping an unnamed developer try to obtain money through a federal affordable-housing program administered by the Prince George’s County Department of Housing and Community Development.