HARRISBURG, Pa. (CBS/AP) — Prosecutors on Wednesday charged a state House representative from Philadelphia and accused her of stealing over $500,000 from a nonprofit organization she founded to serve the mentally ill and poor who were fighting addiction. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the charges against Movita Johnson-Harrell, which include perjury, tampering with public records and theft.
Court papers said the theft went on for years, as Johnson-Harrell converted the charity’s funds into investment properties, vacations and luxury clothing. Shapiro said Johnson-Harrell personally spent more than $500,000 from Motivations Education & Consultation Associates, diverting Medicaid and Social Security disability funds.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro says Johnson-Harrell “engaged in corruption that exploited a charitable nonprofit organization she created.”
“She has agreed to take responsibility for her crimes and will plead guilty to her charges,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said.
The 53-year-old Democrat won a special election in March for a West Philadelphia district.
Johnson-Harrell, the first female Muslim member of the state House, turned herself in to police in Philadelphia. She also agreed to resign from her position.
Johnson-Harrell said in a statement that she is “saddened and dismayed by the nature of the allegations.”
“I vigorously dispute many of these allegations, which generally pertain to before I took office and I intend to accept responsibility for any actions that were inappropriate. I have always fought for the people of West Philadelphia to the best of my ability and will continue to do so,” she said.
Shapiro said Johnson-Harrell engaged in “significant and systematic corruption” involving the payments intended for the people who came to her charity for help.
“Defrauding a nonprofit or defrauding taxpayers and then systematically over many years lying to cover it up is unjust, it’s unfair and it is a crime,” Shapiro said.
Prosecutors said the nonprofit will be reorganized and that Johnson-Harrell no longer has any control over its finances.
They said the money went to buy designer clothing, multiple fox fur coats, payments on a Porsche, tuition for a relative and travel to Mexico and Florida. They said she also spent $8,000 on criminal restitution from a 2014 conviction for not paying unemployment taxes.
Johnson-Harrell previously held a $104,000 job with the victim and witness services unit of the Philadelphia district attorney’s office, and is active in an anti-gun violence foundation named for her 18-year-old son, who was shot to death in 2011.
Court papers say the thefts continued even after she worked in the district attorney’s office and started serving in the state House.
On a state statement of financial disclosure form due in May, Johnson-Harrell reported owing the Internal Revenue Service about $50,000.
She told The Associated Press at that time that the debt went back more than a decade, from a business that helped people with special needs. She said an accountant advised her that if she had appealed in time, she would not have owed anything.
Johnson-Harrell quickly made her presence known in the Capitol. After she was sworn in to office, she objected to a colleague’s session-opening prayer that “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow.”
The lawmaker Johnson-Harrell succeeded was also charged while serving. Democrat Vanessa Lowery Brown resigned in December after being sentenced to 23 months of probation for bribery and other offenses.
Voters of the 190th District are once again faced with trust issues.
“That lets you know we can’t trust nobody, we can trust no one,” Deborah Dickson said.
Johnson-Harrell is the 60th public official that Shapiro says his office has filed charges against.
Johnson-Harrell is set to resign her seat Dec. 13, according to former Congressman Bob Brady.
CBS3’s Howard Monroe and Alexandria Hoff contributed to this report.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)