Councilmember Johnson, wife called 'sophisticated actors' in corruption trial hearing

They are accused of taking a bribe from Kenny Gamble's charter school

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A hearing at a Philadelphia federal court Monday gave a preview of what evidence and issues are likely to be raised when Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson and his wife face a corruption trial in March.

Prosecutors painted a picture of Johnson and Dawn Chavous as something like the Bonnie and Clyde of white-collar crime.

“They’re sophisticated actors,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Gibson said. He claimed Johnson and Chavous knew what they had to do to cover their tracks.

Prosecutors allege Johnson took a bribe as part of a larger indictment alleging that employees of Universal Companies — a charter school group owned by music legend Kenny Gamble — stole $66,000 from the company to bribe Johnson by giving Chavous a consulting contract, in exchange for a zoning variance and other favors.

Johnson and Chavous pleaded not guilty to charges in Jan. 2020.

Defense attorneys asked Judge Gerald McHugh to bar prosecutors from including evidence about the theft and embezzlement charges against the Universal co-defendants because it has nothing to do with the case against Johnson and Chavous. They also argue that it would prejudice a jury against them.

Their attorneys also objected to the prosecution’s plan to introduce financial statements unrelated to the indictment as prejudicial, and even asked to bar prosecutors from mentioning Johnson’s college education because he would be held to a different standard than if he had no degree.

The judge is expected to rule in a couple of weeks.

“I look forward to my day in court to exonerate my name,” Johnson said after the hearing.

“And to refute the many exaggerations and misstatements we heard today,” his lawyer, Patrick Egan, added.

The trial has been scheduled for March 21, in front of Judge McHugh.

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