Johnson, 50, entered the plea before U.S. District Judge Richard T. Haik in Lafayette. In July, while still a prosecutor with 15th Judicial District Attorney Mike Harson’s office, he was charged in a bill of information with the single count of tax evasion and resigned from the DA’s office shortly thereafter.
At sentencing, Johnson faces up to five years in prison, a $100,000 fine, and a mandatory minimum term of not less than two years and not more than three years supervised release following confinement.
Federal prosecutors say Johnson failed to file his federal income tax return in 2003 after receiving income from his salary at the DA’s office and his private law practice totaling $259,371 (several sources have told this newspaper that they were unaware Johnson even had a private law practice). Johnson, who had been with the DA's office for 15 years when he resigned in July, was making about $83,000 as a full-time prosecutor. He did not pay approximately $84,581 in federal income tax for 2003. In order to avoid the payment of taxes, interest and penalties due on assets and income, Johnson purchased property and placed it in someone else’s name, in one case his brother's. He told federal agents that his home was owned by his brother, when in reality all of the property and the home was his, prosecutors say.
Johnson was not charged with the additional crime of lying to the feds — and there’s more to his scheme: In an attempt to conceal income from his private practice, Johnson failed to maintain an operating account, depositing proceeds from his law practice into a client trust account to conceal the nature of the funds. In addition, Johnson knowingly failed to file income tax returns for the years 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008.
“Honest taxpayers lose out when someone evades paying taxes that are owed. Our office and the IRS are working diligently to identify those who do not comply with the tax laws and will hold them accountable,” U.S. Attorney Stephanie A. Finley said in a press release announcing the guilty plea. Finley, who prosecuted the case, was not available for comment Wednesday afternoon.
“Today’s announcement represents the latest chapter in the longstanding commitment of the Department of Justice, FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation to ensure that those entrusted to serve the public do so without reaping unlawful gain,” said James C. Lee, special agent in charge of the IRS' Criminal Investigation division. “IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to vigorously pursue those who intentionally evade the tax laws. All income, regardless of the source, is fully taxable, and the Special Agents of the IRS are committed to investigate and recommend for prosecution those who do not fully pay their fair share.”
This case was investigated by the U. S. Department of Treasury, the IRS' Criminal Investigation division, and the FBI.
The tax evasion charge was not the first time the prosecutor found himself on the other side of the law.
In mid-2005, the state Attorney General’s office charged him in a Bill of Information with domestic abuse battery for allegedly abusing his wife, Lysandra, over a three-day period in May 2004.
Johnson denied the allegations in news reports.
Police were called to a local hospital after Johnson brought his wife in for what he said were severe migraines, though she had swelling in her face and a red eye. At the time, Johnson offered to resign, but Harson instead suspended him for two weeks and ordered him to undergo anger management counseling.
At the time, Harson told The Daily Advertiser that Johnson would likely keep his job even if convicted of the domestic abuse charge. The AG’s office handled the investigation because of Johnson’s relationship to Harson’s office.
Since Johnson’s arrest, he continued to prosecute domestic violence cases, according to the daily paper, and was the lead prosecutor in the Alexuia Feast case, the October 2004 killing of a 13-year-old who had been removed from her Lafayette home by authorities because of allegations of abuse.
The domestic abuse charges against Johnson were dismissed in April 2006, "due to the victim's request," said Louisiana AG spokeswoman Jennifer Roche.