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Ex-Interior Official Charged With Fraud

POSTED: 03:25 PM ET, 11/25/2008 by Derek Kravitz

Updated at 3:43 p.m.

A former top Interior Department official has been charged with accepting kickbacks from business leaders in exchange for arranging meet-and-greets with government officials in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Edgar A. Johnson, 59, of Bowie, Md., worked in federal government for nearly 30 years, most recently as director of the Technical Assistance Division at the Interior Department's Office of Insular Affairs. He was charged yesterday in U.S. District Court in Washington with one count of honest services wire fraud, a felony, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine or both. A date for Johnson's arraignment has not yet been set.

The technical assistance office provides money to U.S. possessions and territories, including the U.S. Virgin Islands, to increase "self-sufficiency" and encourage private sector investment.

Prosecutors allege that Johnson, who left his job in December 2007 earning $121,000 per year, plus benefits, as a GS-15 employee, used his position to get bribes from businesses seeking deals with the Virgin Islands. On Aug. 21, 2007, Johnson accepted $10,000 in exchange for introducing unnamed business leaders to senior officials in Virgin Islands government, "so those individuals could pitch insurance business to the government officials," according to court documents.

Johnson's attorney, Stephen O'Neal Russell, declined to comment on his client's case. Johnson did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Before taking over as head of the technical assistance division, Johnson worked as the Interior Department's Virgin Islands chief desk officer. A graduate of Morgan State College, Johnson received an award of appreciation from former Virgin Islands Gov. Roy Schneider for his work transferring Water Island, a small territory south of St. Thomas, from federal ownership to the local government in 1996.

Former Interior Secretary Manuel Lujuan, also honored Johnson for his volunteer work for the Columbia Basketball Association, where he served as coach and commissioner for nine years. Johnson is a past president of the Interior Chapter of Blacks In Government.

A Morgan State University alumni magazine article from 2004 noted at the time that Johnson worked "closely" with Dr. Donna Christian-Christensen, the U.S. Virgin Islands delegate to Congress, and Gov. Charles Turnbull "to resolve issues with federal agencies and promote economic, social and political development" in the territories.

U.S. v. Edgar A. Johnson

By Derek Kravitz |  November 25, 2008; 3:25 PM ET
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