A federal magistrate judge allowed suspended 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson to go free Tuesday after he entered a plea of not guilty to federal fraud charges and promised to show up for future court dates in connection with his prosecution.
If Johnson fails to do so, he could forfeit $25,000.
Afterward, Johnson, who was allowed last week to slip out a back entrance of the Richland County Courthouse after his arraignment on state charges, had to exit Columbia’s federal courthouse by the front door.
There, the 47-year-old suspended solicitor walked by reporters and television cameras without stopping to discuss the 26 federal fraud charges against him, including allegations that he spent $55,000 in taxpayer money on personal expenses.
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An hour earlier, Johnson had reported to federal court with his temporary lawyer, John Rakowsky of West Columbia. There, Johnson waited in line — behind two alleged drug traffickers, three alleged illegal aliens and a defendant charged with a firearms violation — for his name to be called by U.S. Magistrate Judge Shiva Hodges.
“You have the right to remain silent, and anything you say can be used against you,” Hodges told Johnson during the arraignment, a proceeding where charges formally are read to defendants and conditions are set for their bonded release until trial.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alyssa Richardson, who will be prosecuting Johnson with Assistant U.S. Attorney Will Lewis, noted the prosecutor is accused of abusing the public trust, asking Hodges to order pre-trial supervision of Johnson while he is free on bond.
Pre-trial supervison could involve an ankle monitor, confinement to a defendant’s dwelling or reporting to a federal probation office.
But Hodges declined, saying Johnson is not a flight risk, does not pose a danger to the community and has no criminal record.
Hodges also said pre-trial supervision was not required for other defendants charged with similar crimes — including former Lexington County Sheriff Jimmy Metts, who faced federal charges in connection with the release of illegal aliens from jail — while out on bond.
Johnson still has not chosen a permanent attorney. Hodges set Oct. 16 as the deadline for the suspended solicitor to tell the court whether he will apply for a public defender. To do so, Johnson would have to declare he does not have the money to hire his own attorney.
At the same hearing, Johnson’s co-defendant and former aide, Nicole Holland, also was given a $25,000 unsecured bond. She was represented by Columbia attorney Clarence Davis.
Johnson and Holland also face state charges relating to the misuse of credit cards issued to the solicitor’s office. Both the federal and state indictments were issued last month.