JACKSON – Former Hinds County assistant prosecutor Ivon Johnson told a federal judge Thursday that he was part of a conspiracy to take money from criminal defendants in return for favors, such as securing lower jail bonds.
“As the facts are alleged, I plead guilty,” said Johnson, 33. He was accused in a July 15 federal bill of information, which is a legal charge by the government without going through a grand jury. Sentencing was set for Oct. 13.
In an unusual move, which U.S. District Judge Tom S. Lee noted, Johnson will be allowed to retain his passport to go on his honeymoon to Jamaica, which the government said it agreed to.
Johnson’s plea raises the prospect that he could be a source of information for ongoing state and federal government investigations into the dealings of the Hinds County District Attorney’s Office. Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith faces state misdemeanor charges that he also illegally helped criminal defendants.
Lee, who presided over the guilty-plea proceedings, asked Johnson, “Did you know the difference between right and wrong during the period stated in the bill of information?” Johnson said he did.
Lee accepted his guilty plea, telling Johnson he faced up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. It will be a few months before Johnson is sentenced because of the time it takes the U.S. Probation Service to develop a thorough report to guide Lee’s decision.
Allison Bushnell of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Shreveport, La., represented the government after the Jackson-based office in the southern district of Mississippi recused itself because of likely relationships with Smith and his office.
Johnson represented himself Thursday and at Wednesday’s initial appearance when he pleaded not guilty as part of a procedural hearing to set bond and ask him about legal representation. He remains free on $10,000 unsecured bond.
Johnson, who earned a law degree and a law master’s degree, said he worked for the District Attorney’s Office for about three years of the seven years he’s practiced law. He left the District Attorney’s employ several months ago. With his guilty plea, he is expected to lose his law license.
The charge against Johnson claims that from shortly after June 2013 until February 2016, he participated in a scheme with unnamed “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, and of accepting at least $15,000 from a co-conspirator during the time of the crime.
Action against Johnson came less than a month after his former-boss Smith, was accused on six misdemeanor state charges of illegally helping criminal defendants.
Smith has made no public statements about his situation.