Philly Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson corruption trial scheduled for 2021

City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson and his wife, Dawn Chavous, exiting federal court

File photo: City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson and his wife, Dawn Chavous, exiting federal court on Jan. 31, 2020. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, his wife Dawn Chavous, and two former executives at the South Philadelphia-based nonprofit Universal Companies will stand trial on federal corruption charges –– but not until early next year.

United States District Judge Gerald Austin McHugh set a formal trial date of January 11, 2021, according to an order filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Johnson and his wife are accused of accepting $66,750 in bribes from Shahied Dawan and Abdur Rahim Islam, then executives at Universal, an educational and housing nonprofit founded by recording legend Kenny Gamble, who was not charged in the case.

The suit asserts that Dawan and Islam retained Chavous for a lucrative consulting gig with few duties. In return, federal authorities say Johnson used his political influence to aid the nonprofit in several land deals.

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“Chavous’ consulting business provided the vehicle to disguise bribe payments to her husband,” the indictment claims.

However, the councilmember and Chavous have both vigorously denied the allegations.

Johnson’s attorney, Patrick Egan, said he welcomed a trial –– and the chance to clear his client’s name.

“We’re looking forward to the trial and for Kenyatta’s opportunity to be vindicated and show that these charges are unfounded,” he said in a phone call Thursday.

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Lawyers for Dawan and Islam did not immediately return calls for comment.

Much of the larger indictment focuses on a scheme allegedly developed by Dawan and Abdur to embezzle some $500,000 from Universal and fund a separate plan to bribe the former school board president in Milwaukee, where the nonprofit operated two charter campuses. The board president pleaded guilty to accepting bribes last year.

Federal authorities confirmed the trial date but could not comment on whether it will be impacted by COVID.

The federal courthouse has suspended jury selection and jury trials as the pandemic rages.

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