Pennsylvania Democrat Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell – the state’s first female Muslim representative – was elected in March.
She hasn’t been in office a year, but she’s already been indicted on stealing over $500K from her own charity, a non-profit for the mentally ill.
Johnson-Harrell is facing charges of perjury, theft, and tampering with public records, among other charges.
Following her indictment, Johnson-Harrell has just announced that she will be resigning from office, despite disputing several of the accusations,
“I am saddened and dismayed by the nature of the allegations brought against me today. I vigorously dispute many of these allegations, which generally pertain to before I took office and I intend to accept responsibility for any actions that were inappropriate.”
Take a look at the breaking news on Twitter:
According to PA Attorney-General Josh Shapiro, Johnson-Harrell exploited the charity to buy personal luxury goods, like vacations, a Porsche, and fur coats.
The Philadephia Inquirer has more details on Movita Johnson-Harrell's alleged crimes:
State Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell, a West Philadelphia Democrat, said Wednesday that she would resign after prosecutors charged her with stealing more than $500,000 from her own nonprofit and spending it on family vacations, designer clothing, furs, personal bills — and her bid for the legislature.
State Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Johnson-Harrell engaged in “brazen corruption” and systematically tried to cover up her crimes by falsifying records and financial statements.
Shapiro said Johnson-Harrell would plead guilty to charges and faces jail time. “There will be a guilty plea that will be worked out, and you will see the details of that soon," he said.
Johnson-Harrell, 53, disputed many of the charges, but said she would resign this month.
“I am saddened and dismayed by the nature of the allegations brought against me today. I vigorously dispute many of these allegations, which generally pertain to before I took office, and I intend to accept responsibility for any actions that were inappropriate,” Johnson-Harrell, who represents the 190th District, said in a statement through her attorney.
The charges against Johnson-Harrell mean she is poised to become the second state lawmaker from the West Philadelphia district to leave office under a cloud of criminal accusations in one year. Johnson-Harrell won the seat in a March special election to replace Vanessa Lowery Brown, who was convicted of bribery and other charges and resigned last December.
She turned herself in at a Philadelphia police station on Wednesday morning.
Prosecutors said Johnson-Harrell used Motivations Education & Consultation Associates (MECA) — a nonprofit she established more than a decade ago to assist people struggling with mental illness, addiction, and homelessness — for profligate spending and personal gain.
Over several years, Johnson-Harrell tried to hide her crimes through an elaborate scheme involving multiple properties in Philadelphia, Shapiro said. Among the steps she took were inflating her tax bills, hiding the nonprofit’s money through false record-keeping, not reporting the money she was taking from MECA as income, attempting to transfer real estate, and under-reporting her real salary, prosecutors said. She misrepresented her money and assets in bankruptcy filings, tax returns, and financial disclosure statements, they said.
Many of the purchases investigators tracked were easily traced to MECA funds: Often, Johnson-Harrell spent an amount she had allegedly transferred from the nonprofit to a personal account. She made some purchases directly from MECA accounts, and she repaid herself for fake loans to the organization, according to the criminal complaint.
“MECA’s actual mission was to serve as a cash account for Johnson-Harrell’s own personal use,” Shapiro said.
Among the funds used was $12,500 Johnson-Harrell allegedly transferred from MECA to the Friends of Movita campaign committee during her run for legislature this year. She told the campaign to record the money as a $15,000 personal loan from her, prosecutors said.
Then, toward the end of the campaign, Johnson deposited into the Friends of Movita account a $30,000 check she had saved from a transfer of MECA funds to her own account. She withdrew half in cash and left the rest for the campaign as an unreported loan, according to the complaint.
The Washington Post also said:
The nonprofit founded by a Pennsylvania lawmaker was meant to help some of the neediest people in West Philadelphia, caring for and housing those struggling with addiction, poverty and mental illness.
Yet over the past decade, officials say, state Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell (D) used more than $500,000 from the charity’s bank accounts to pay off a Porsche, multiple fur coats and pricey vacations to Mexico — not to mention funding her two campaigns for a state seat representing a Philadelphia district.
Although the Democrat disputed some of those charges, she also submitted her resignation Thursday from office, and officials said she is planning to plead guilty to some charges, which include theft, perjury and related crimes.
“Her theft knew no bounds,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “No one is above the law, no matter their position of power. And today is no different.”
Johnson-Harrell, 53, is the 60th public official in Pennsylvania to have been arrested by Shapiro’s office since 2017. But the allegations against her stand out.
Prosecutors say the lawmaker used her charity as a “cash account,” drawing in some cases from her clients’ government benefits, and covered it up by lying on her personal financial records or those of her nonprofit and campaign.
“I vigorously dispute many of these allegations, which generally pertain to before I took office,” she said in a statement to the Associated Press, “and I intend to accept responsibility for any actions that were inappropriate.”
A lawyer for Johnson-Harrell did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post.
Johnson-Harrell, who said she was the first female Muslim member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, was elected in March and rapidly emerged as an outspoken voice against gun violence. She was in part motivated by her own family’s painful history: Four relatives — her father, only brother, a cousin and her 18-year-old son — have been fatally shot.