Guilty plea expected from ex-Hinds prosecutor in federal case

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Former Hinds County assistant district attorney Ivon Johnson is free on $10,000 personal bond Wednesday after pleading not guilty in Jackson to a federal charge that he conspired to accept money to assist criminal defendants.

Johnson, however, will plead guilty Thursday before U.S. District Judge Tom S. Lee, court records show.

Magistrate Judge Linda Anderson presided over Wednesday’s preliminary hearing during which Johnson, an attorney, announced he will represent himself through the proceedings. Johnson, 33, who has a law degree and a law master’s degree, said he had been with the district attorney’s office approximately three years.

His Wednesday hearing was an initial appearance, when the court gathers information about a defendant, sets bond and asks questions about legal representation. Thursday’s hearing will focus solely on accepting his guilty plea and conditions for him awaiting a pre-sentence report, which could take months.

The charge against Johnson claims that from shortly after June 2013 until February 2016, he participated in a scheme with “others” to accept money for “a transaction or a series of transactions” by the Hinds County District Attorney’s Office involving $5,000 or more. Specifically, the government accuses him of accepting $500 to help reduce the bond of a defendant cited as “S.B.” from $15,000 to about $3,500.

If convicted, Johnson faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine and will lose his law license.

Johnson reportedly has not worked in the district attorney’s office since July 18.

Action against Johnson came less than a month after his then-boss, District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith, was accused on six misdemeanor state charges of illegally helping criminal defendants.

Smith has made no public statements about his situation.

Allison Bushnell, an assistant U.S. attorney from Shreveport, La., represented the government at the Johnson hearing. The Jackson-based U.S. Attorney’s Office cited potential conflicts with the case and bowed out as prosecutors.

Johnson was accused July 15 on a one-count bill of information, which is a legal charge brought by the government outside of a grand jury.

In response to the judge’s questions about representing himself in court, he told Anderson that he was familiar with the federal rules of court and had participated in two civil and two criminal federal cases.