Jury selected in federal bribery trial of City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson

Opening statements in the trial of Johnson and three co-defendants begin Thursday.

City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson is shown from the side, profile visible, in this file photo from 2018.

File photo: City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

After three days of questioning, the jury that will decide the fate of Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson and three co-defendants has been chosen. Opening statements in the federal corruption trial will start Thursday.

“My client is very anxious to get this going because he knows once all the facts he will be found not guilty,” said Patrick Egan, Johnson’s defense attorney. “We just want our day in court.”

Prosecutors say Johnson accepted more than $66,000 in bribes from Universal Companies, a non-profit developer and charter-school operator headquartered in his legislative district. In exchange, the three-term Democrat allegedly helped Universal maintain control of valuable real estate in South Philadelphia.

According to the indictment, the bribes were concealed as payments to a consulting company started by Johnson’s wife, Dawn Chavous.

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Universal’s former CEO Abdur Rahim Islam and CFO Shahied Dawn are charged alongside the couple, who each face up to 40 years in prison.

All four defendants have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The trial, which could force a second sitting council member to resign, is expected to last four to six weeks.

During that time, prosecutors could call nearly 50 people to the witness stand, including three elected officials from Philadelphia — State Rep. Jordan Harris and State Sens. Sharif Street and Anthony Hardy Williams.

The government may also question prominent real estate developers Carl Dranoff and Ori Feibush, as well as Kelvin Jeremiah, president of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, and Philadelphia School District superintendent William Hite, according to court documents.

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Kenny Gamble, the legendary music producer who founded Universal Companies is yet another potential witness.

Jury selection wrapped up a day later than expected after the process hit an “unforeseen” snag that required an additional pool of potential panelists to be interviewed.

The setback happened after not enough people showed up for the second day of voir dire on Tuesday. U.S. District Judge Gerald McHugh had dismissed more than half of the roughly 80 possible jurors the day before.

“The case has momentarily ground to a halt,” McHugh told a group of possible jurors on Wednesday before adjourning court for the day.

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