Crime & Courts

Feds say ex-Solicitor Dan Johnson ‘abused power’ and deserves prison

Former 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson “repeatedly and consistently abused his power” and deserves a prison sentence, a federal prosecutor wrote in a sentencing memo.

The memo, written to U.S. Judge Cameron McGowan Currie, was originally sealed but Currie ordered that it be made public.

Currie, who has a reputation as a no-nonsense judge in public corruption cases, is scheduled to sentence Johnson on Tuesday afternoon in her courtroom on the third floor of the U.S. Matthew Perry federal courthouse in Columbia.

For nearly eight years, Johnson was solicitor for South Carolina’s 5th Judicial Circuit. As the chief elected prosecutor in the circuit, Johnson oversaw thousands of criminal cases in Richland and Kershaw counties. He was indicted last year on numerous charges of fraud connected with his repeated uses of office credit cards for his romantic affairs and personal travel. In all, he stole thousands of dollars of taxpayer money, according to evidence in the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Will Lewis has asked Currie to give Johnson a sentence of a year and a day. If Currie agrees, it’s likely Johnson would spend at least some time behind bars in a federal prison.

Johnson’s lawyer, John Rakowsky, did not file a presentence memo. Rakowsky did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday morning.

In his memo, prosecutor Lewis told the judge that many criminals are driven to commit legal acts because of “desperation, addiction” or other circumstances.

“Johnson is not like those defendants. Johnson is before this Court because he abused his power, stole from those he swore to protect, and violated the public trust out of greed, hubris, and opportunity,” Lewis wrote. Hubris is a word of Greek origin meaning great arrogance and pride.

“As the elected solicitor, Johnson repeatedly and consistently abused his power, stealing tens of thousands of dollars from the counties he was elected to represent, all the while signing indictments for individuals likewise violating the laws he swore to enforce,” wrote Lewis.

“The seriousness of this breach of public trust cannot be overstated,” Lewis wrote. “Public corruption such as this, perpetrated by an elected law enforcement official and prosecutor, must be addressed with a sentence” equal to the harm it has caused, he continued.

Johnson originally said he would fight the charges. But an aide, Nicole Holland, who was indicted with Johnson, agreed to cooperate with federal authorities and testify against him. Johnson then pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud.

Lewis’s memorandum also says that Johnson’s office had little oversight and he came to realize “his decisions ... were subject to no review.”

Free from scrutiny, Johnson was “unilaterally entrusted with ensuring taxpayer dollars were used to further office business. Nevertheless, Johnson abused that trust repeatedly,” Lewis wrote.

“Worst of all, he did so while representing to his constituents, law enforcement and the courts that he was upholding the laws of this state,” Lewis wrote.

Had Johnson gone to trial, prosecutors were prepared to prove the other 35 counts in the indictment against him, prosecutors have said.

Those counts included allegations that Johnson tried to obstruct the investigation by erasing data from his office iPhone and iPad, and stole money from the S.C. Air National Guard by submitting expenses already paid by the solicitor’s office.

Other assistant U.S. attorneys on the case are Winston Holliday and Alyssa Richardson.

Earlier this year, Johnson resigned from the S.C. Air National Guard, where he was a lawyer in the Guard’s legal section.

Johnson’s fall from grace has been watched around the state. A Citadel graduate, he was making approximately $140,000 as elected solicitor.