Kenyatta Johnson back in City Council after mistrial in his bribery case

Philadelphia Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson exits the federal courthouse with family on April 14, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson exits the federal courthouse with family on April 14, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Two days after a judge declared a mistrial in his federal bribery case, Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson participated in his first legislative session in more than a month.

He never mentioned the trial nor his time away from the body’s public meetings.

His colleagues didn’t either.

The only apparent acknowledgment of the trial appeared on the Democrat’s official Twitter page on Thursday morning.

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“@PHLCouncil session is today starting at approx. 10 a.m. I will attend the Council session and continue working for the residents of the Second Council District,” wrote Johnson.

The silence was not necessarily a surprise. Other than the first day of jury selection in late March, Johnson did not address the media during the trial.

Even after U.S. District Judge Gerald A. McHugh declared a mistrial on Tuesday,  Johnson only briefly addressed the throng of reporters gathered outside the federal courthouse — possibly as a result of the government’s decision to retry him and his three co-defendants, including his wife Dawn Chavous.

“I just want to thank my Lord and savior Jesus Christ, I want to thank all of my family, friends and supporters for just praying for us and showing us support during this very stressful time,” said Johnson before ducking into a waiting car near 6th and Market Streets.

During Thursday’s council session, the three-term lawmaker remained quiet other than announcing his presence at the start of the meeting and voicing his votes for resolutions considered in bulk and individually.

Afterward, his spokesperson emphasized that Johnson has never stopped working for his district, even during the trial.

“Councilman Johnson is a very active councilman. He works every single day,” said Vincent Thomas. “There have been no times where the councilman does not know what’s going on in the office.”

It’s unclear when Johnson’s second trial will start.

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Prosecutors say he received nearly $67,000 in bribes from Universal Companies in exchange for a pair of political favors that benefited the organization, a nonprofit developer and charter school operator.

The government alleges the bribe money was disguised as payments to his wife’s consulting firm, and that she did “very little” work for Universal to prove otherwise.

McHugh declared a mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. The panel had deliberated for roughly 25 hours before the judge made his decision, which for now keeps Johnson in politics and out of prison.

Johnson’s defense attorney said Tuesday that prosecutors don’t have any evidence showing that his client and his wife participated in a bribery scheme with two former executives at Universal.

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