Judge declares mistrial in trial of Philadelphia council member Kenyatta Johnson
Defense attorneys pushed back on all of this, mostly during cross-examination of government witnesses.
They argued that Chavous’ contract with Universal was legitimate and that neither Johnson nor the nonprofit organization had any motivation, financial or otherwise, to participate in a bribery scheme.
Their reason: Johnson and Universal had a history of “mutual support” rooted in shared priorities. Namely, to provide affordable housing and a good education to residents of South and Southwest Philadelphia.
At trial, Barry Gross, who represents Chavous, also spent considerable time reviewing emails and other documents that he said showed his client was not a “weak” consultant, but an executioner. work that has spent “hours and hours” helping Universal spread its story. to high net worth individuals and institutions in hopes of securing donations for the organization, which operates seven charter schools in Philadelphia.
The defense attorney said Chavous researched, attended, and hosted meetings and working dinners with elected officials and community leaders, as well as visits with charter school “enthusiasts.” She also spent hours planning a 20th anniversary celebration that never happened, he said.
“Your degree is not in organizational dynamics from Penn and you do not have a certificate from Harvard in charter schools. But then you determined without interviewing a number of people … that it was little work, very little work, less than 40 hours,” Gross told Haag, who was on the stand for half of the case. government.
Johnson’s attorney, Patrick Egan, has repeatedly disputed government claims that his client and Chavous were in poor financial shape while the bribery scheme unfolded.
As part of its case, the government reviewed the couple’s bank accounts and credit card statements. Prosecutors pointed to nearly two dozen overdraft protection notices, Chavous’ credit card debt and a $20,000 line of credit the couple obtained from TD Bank in 2015, after Chavous quit working for Universal.
While interviewing Haag, Egan noted that Johnson constantly had a large amount of money in his personal bank accounts, while keeping up to date with nearly all of his credit card accounts. He also said Chavous started making extra mortgage payments during his time at Universal.
“From March 2012 to December 2014, there was never a time when the combined amount of his account and account was less than $20,000,” Egan said.
During his closing argument, David Laigaie, who represents Islam, reminded jurors that Universal paid consultants more than $600,000 in 2013 and more than $500,000 in 2014, totals which he said did not did not correspond to a company in financial difficulty.
Prosecutors told jurors that none of it mattered.
“Councillor Johnson sold his office for $66,750. Ms. Chavous sold her office for $66,750. Mr. Islam and Mr. Dawan bought an adviser for $66,750,” Dubnoff said.
Immediately after Johnson’s trial, Islam and Dawan will sit for a second trial, where they will be charged with stealing nearly $500,000 from Universal, including fraudulent bonuses.
The couple are also accused of bribing a school board president in Milwaukee as Universal worked to expand its charter school operations to Cream City.