A Democrat state representative in Pennsylvania turned herself in for arrest this week after being charged with a litany of crimes including stealing more than $500,000 from a non-profit charity, state attorney general Josh Shapiro said Wednesday.
Democrat charged with stealing from charity
The Dec. 4 indictment charges Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell, who was first Islamic woman elected to be a Pennsylvania state representative, with routinely engaging in theft from a non-profit she founded and operated known as Motivations Education & Consulting Associates (MECA), ostensibly created with a purpose to assist the mentally ill and drug-addicted poor residents of Philadelphia.
Shapiro noted that Johnson-Harrell turned herself in, intended to plead guilty, and would resign her position as representative of Pennsylvania’s 190th House district.
“While Johnson-Harrell was lining her pockets with MECA funds, MECA’s residents were living in squalor,” Shapiro said. “When corruption erodes the trust that is built between governmental entities and citizens, no one wins. I’ve said time and time again as Attorney General that no one is above the law, no matter their position of power. And today is no different.”
Vacations and fur coats
According to the indictment, Johnson-Harrell was charged with multiple counts of theft by unlawful taking and deception, perjury, tampering with public records — including both state and federal tax forms — filing false statements of financial interest, and falsely reporting campaign expenditures.
The document provided a lengthy summary detailing how Johnson-Harrell repeatedly and routinely transferred money from the purported charity to her own bank accounts, and how that money — tens of thousands of dollars worth — was used to pay for personal expenses.
Those expenses include, but aren’t limited to: multiple vacations, designer clothing, fur coats, payments on her Porsche and home mortgages, paying tuition and lawyer fees for relatives, paying for overdue utility bills and back-taxes, and even to making restitution for a prior criminal conviction.
Johnson-Harrell also was charged with using the charity’s funds to commit mortgage fraud via a “straw purchase” of a home for herself in the name of a relative, paying herself “rent” on properties she owned via the charity, and making fraudulent “loans” from the charity to herself in addition to her actual salary and routine drafting of checks for “cash” from the MECA account.
The affidavit also explained how she used charity funds to finance her political campaigns for office, and how she fraudulently either downplayed or inflated charity expenses on certain campaign finance disclosures and tax forms, in addition to defrauding a bankruptcy court.
Stamping out corruption
As big as this bust is, Johnson-Harrell is the 60th public official in Pennsylvania that Shapiro has prosecuted since taking office in 2017, as part of his effort to stamp out crime and corruption among those who’ve been granted the public trust.
A report from BillyPenn.com, tweeted out by Shapiro himself, provided details for nearly all of those who’d been busted by the attorney general with the comment, “In any other city, this would be a rare offense. In Philadelphia, political corruption is almost seasonal.”
It remains unclear what sort of sentence Johnson-Harrell can expect to receive, but given the significant amount of money stolen from the charity and the fact that such thefts were routine and obviously premeditated, it would be a surprise if she escaped serving at least some time behind bars.