Former Assistant District Attorney J. Floyd Johnson was sentenced Wednesday in federal court to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty late last year to a single count of tax evasion. The ex-prosecutor will also serve three years supervised probation upon release from prison and must pay the feds roughly $180,000 in restitution.
"I can truly say I came into this hearing not knowing what I was going to do," U.S. District Judge Richard Haik said before handing down the sentence, which falls on the low end of the recommended guidelines. While some might not see the wisdom in locking up someone with Johnson's education and background, Haik noted, "If you don't put him in jail for what he has done, it sends a terrible message." The judge said that during the hearing he toyed with sentencing Johnson above the recommended 18-24 month guidelines as the evidence of his scheme to hide assets was presented. In the end, however, the judge agreed with U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley, who said that Johnson's professional background and work as an ADA should not factor into the sentencing. She asked the judge to hand down a sentence that would be consistent with similar tax evasion cases.
Before announcing the sentence, Haik ran through a number of the means Johnson used to hide his assets and avoid tax obligations: he bought two pieces of property for $16,000 each at separate times in 1994 and 1995 and put them in his mother-in-law's name because he had a 1993 tax lien of $49,000 against him; he then had her donate the property to his brother in 1999 and later took out $500,000 in construction and long-term financing loans in his brother's name to build a home for his own family on the site. Floyd Johnson initially lied to investigators, saying his brother, Chris Johnson, owned the home and that he was only renting it. In most of the transactions to execute the scheme, it was Johnson himself who notarized documents and filed them in the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court's office. "If there isn't a scheme here, there ain't no such thing as a scheme," Haik said.
Referencing the team of respected local attorneys led by Valerie Garrett and Rickey Miniex who are also Johnson's good friends, Haik noted that the former prosecutor had "such a bright future, so many people who liked him." Despite that he was only charged with one count of tax evasion, court records indicate that Johnson failed to file income tax returns from 2003 to 2008, and often was late or did not pay his tax obligations dating back to the early 1990s. "[Johnson] flaunted around for years without paying income tax," Haik continued. "It shows he had very little respect for this particular law.
"I mean, you had the money," Haik said to the defendant. Court testimony revealed that Johnson's annual income was often in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, from the DA's office and settlements from a private practice. "I know you don't feel like you got a break, but you did," Haid told Johnson. Had it not been for the taxes that were automatically deducted from his AD salary, Johnson's pattern proves he would have tried to avoid paying any taxes at all for more than a decade. "It appears that he really just didn't care," Haik said.
"Clearly judge, there were things that were good in Mr. Johnson's life," defense attorney Garrett said in asking the court for leniency. Garrett, however, acknowledged that Johnson's "personal life was a mess" for years. "How he lived in that mess, I can't even imagine," she said.
As for Johnson himself, the disgraced former prosecutor had little to say in his own defense. "I feel badly about the way I did these things," he said, noting his refusal to file and pay taxes. "As an officer of the court, I was remiss and I apologize."
Johnson reports to prison July 7.
For more of the back story on Johnson, click here.