Juror dismissed in Kenyatta Johnson retrial over ‘religious conviction’

Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson leaves Federal Court after the judge in his bribery trial declared a mistrial, following the jury's failure to reach a unanimous verdict on the charges. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

FILE - Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson leaves Federal Court after the judge in his bribery trial declared a mistrial, following the jury's failure to reach a unanimous verdict on the charges. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A federal judge revealed Tuesday that a juror was dismissed from the federal bribery case of City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson earlier this month because of her “strong religious conviction.”

The court order, issued by U.S. District Judge Gerald A. McHugh, says the unnamed juror was unable to “deliberate impartially” as a result.

Judge McHugh’s court order

McHugh did not provide any further details, and the transcripts from the series of closed-door discussions that preceded the dismissal are now under seal.

“Given the current posture of the case, no purpose is served by disclosure of the content of the Court’s communication with individual members of the panel,” wrote McHugh.

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Johnson’s lawyer declined to comment.

The government did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.

The juror was dismissed on the fifth day of deliberations of Johnson’s retrial, just a few hours before a reconstituted panel acquitted the Democratic lawmaker and his three co-defendants on all charges.

Johnson was accused of accepting nearly $67,000 in bribes from two former nonprofit executives at Universal Companies. In exchange, he allegedly performed political favors that benefited the organization, co-founded by Philly music legend Kenny Gamble.

Prosecutors said the bribe money was concealed as payments to a consulting company operated by Johson’s wife, Dawn Chavous. They said the nonprofit executives — CEO Abdur Rahim Islam and CFO Shahied Dawan — only hired Chavous to get her husband to help them maintain control of valuable real estate they owned in his legislative district in South Philadelphia.

The first jury Johnson faced in April was unable to reach a unanimous verdict, resulting in McHugh declaring a mistrial.

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Islam and Dawan still face charges that they stole nearly $500,000 from Universal. McHugh recently declared a mistrial during that proceeding after a juror contracted COVID-19 and no alternate jurors remained from the first phase of the trial.

Jury selection in their retrial is scheduled to start on Feb. 6.

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