Kenyatta Johnson expected to be retried in bribery case following jury deadlock

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, right, chats with Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. outside City Hall.
Metro file

Prosecutors say they are “committed to pursuing a retrial” in the case against Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, his wife Dawn Chavous and two other men accused of bribing the couple, after a judge declared a mistrial Tuesday evening.

Johnson, who represents parts of South and Southwest Philadelphia, plans to participate in Council’s session on Thursday, for the first time since his trial began several weeks ago.

“I want to thank my lord and savior, Jesus Christ, and I want to thank all my family, friends and supporters for praying for us, and showing us support, during this very stressful time,” he wrote on Facebook. “I will continue fighting on behalf of the residents that I represent in the Second Council District.”

What remained unclear Wednesday was how quickly a second trial could occur.

The jury, which remained deadlocked following 25 hours of deliberation, was scheduled to remain seated to consider additional charges facing Johnson’s co-defendants, Abdur Rahim Islam and Shahied Dawan, both former executives of Universal Companies.

While at Universal, a nonprofit founded by songwriter and producer Kenny Gamble that manages eight charter schools in Philadelphia, Islam and Dawan paid off Johnson’s family in exchange for zoning changes to two properties, including the historic Royal Theater on South Street, prosecutors have argued.

Authorities allege that the bribe was disguised as a $66,000 consulting contract for Chavous, who they say did little for Universal.

Patrick J. Egan and Barry Gross, attorneys for Johnson and Chavous, have accused prosecutors of devaluing Chavous’s work and, in a statement Tuesday, said there was “not a single piece of hard evidence” pointing to wrongdoing.

“In the coming weeks, we will have more to say about the facts of this case and why it never should have been brought in the first place,” Egan and Gross said.

Islam and Dawan were also indicted on charges unrelated to Johnson that they the bribed an education official in Milwaukee and stole about $460,000 from Universal while employed by the nonprofit.

Despite Johnson’s time spent in the courtroom during the lengthy trial, he has been engaged with his constituents and the goings-on at City Hall, said Vincent Thompson, communications director for his office.

“The councilman has been actively involved in the operations of the office, reaching out to staff and having meetings about a variety of issues, including budget priorities,” Thompson told Metro on Wednesday. “We have not missed a beat.”

Johnson has continued to hold events and his staff have continued to respond to concerns from residents, Thompson added.

As a result of the case, he missed three Council meetings — absences excused by legislative leadership — and four hearings on the city budget.

Had the jury found him guilty, Johnson would have been the second Councilmember convicted within the past six months.

Bobby Henon was convicted of federal bribery and fraud charges in November alongside electricians’ union leader John Dougherty. Henon resigned from his post representing a section of Northeast Philadelphia in January but has yet to be sentenced.

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