Kenyatta Johnson claims innocence as federal indictment seems imminent

Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson maintains his innocence in the face of an impending federal indictment against him and his wife, political consultant Dawn Chavous.

“First, let me be clear: I am innocent. I did nothing wrong,” Johnson wrote in a statement Tuesday. “I am the victim of overzealous federal prosecutors who have spent the last five years looking for something to charge me with.”

For at least the last two years of the federal investigation, the city has paid out $75,000 for Patrick J. Egan of Fox Rothschild to represent the councilmember. A representative for the councilmember confirmed he expects the indictment to be announced in the coming days.

Spokesman Ben Waxman said that, based on the nature of the documents requested by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and questions that office asked of the councilmember, especially over the course of the last four or five months, he expects federal prosecutors will make a case arguing that the South Philadelphia nonprofit Universal Companies offered Chavous work in return for her husband’s help in getting zoning changes needed for a development project in 2014.

The councilmember did push the legislation that permitted Universal’s plan to build a mixed-use project on the site of the historic Royal Theater on South Street while maintaining the historically-designated facade. Chavous was under contract to Universal as a consultant for its charter school operations during that time.

“She’s never needed help from me to land a job or make any other advancement in her career,” said Johnson of his wife in a statement. “Any claim that she didn’t earn her position is preposterous.”

Johnson, who represents Philadelphia’s Second District, said he plans to plead not guilty if charged with any crime.

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