PHILADEPHIA (CBS) — Opening statements were held Thursday in Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson’s federal corruption trial. His wife Dawn Chavous is also indicted in the case.
The jurors listened to over three and a half hours of opening statements. Lawyers for the government and each of the four defendants presented their cases.READ MORE: 5-Year-Old Boy Injured In North Philadelphia Shooting, Police Say
What we won’t hear are taped conversations that aid the prosecution’s case — a smoking gun, if you will — as the government tries to prove that Johnson and his wife are each guilty on two federal bribery counts are facing up to 40 years in prison each.
Lawyers tried to lay the groundwork for what they’ll be looking to prove for the prosecution and disprove for the defense during what’s expected to be around a three-week-long trial.
The defense argued that Johnson and his wife made a mistake by not divulging that he would have a say on City Council in matters affecting Universal Companies, for whom his wife had entered into a consulting contract.
The prosecution, meanwhile, painted Johnson and Chavous as a power couple lining their pockets with bribes while acting against the interests of Johnson’s constituents.
The prosecution is arguing Johnson’s seat was sold in a bribery scheme. They claim Johnson’s wife was given a consultant job for Universal Companies in exchange for Johnson’s vote on key projects.
Universal Companies is a South Philly nonprofit that develops affordable housing and operates charter schools.
Over the course of her contract, Chavous made nearly $67,000, but prosecutors claim it was a “low show” job that only existed so money could be funneled to Johnson’s accounts.READ MORE: EXCLUSIVE: Teen Pilot Who Landed Plane On Bridge In Ocean City Shares How He Survived New Mexico Plane Crash
Johnson’s lawyer argued no bribe was necessary because the councilman supported Universal’s mission for years before Chavous was hired. Chavous’ lawyer said she was hired because of her expertise, not because of her husband.
Prosecutors claim Johnson pushed through zoning legislation that allowed Universal to sell a property it purchased for under $300 for over $3 million. Additionally, he intervened on another plot of land as the city was preparing to revoke Universal’s ownership of it.
The defense countered. They say it makes no sense for Universal to have bribed Johnson because he’s long been a proponent of affordable housing and charter schools, just like Universal.
They also argue that the accusations against Chavous, who’s been an education consultant, political campaign advisor and an advocate for charter schools, are sexist, insulting and demeaning. They say they will provide evidence to rebut the prosecution’s claim that she did next to nothing to be paid by universal.
Rahim Islam, the CEO of Universal Companies, and Shahied Dawan, the organization’s chief financial officer face 20 additional counts. They include racketeering, conspiracy, tax evasion and wire fraud charges. Prosecutors claim they stole half a million dollars from Universal in the form of bonuses and personal reimbursements. Their lawyers said they wouldn’t steal from an organization they helped build. They each face about 300 years in prison.
While a lot of this case is inside baseball, the bottom line is that by the end of it Philadelphia could have two city councilmembers convicted of federal crimes this year. Former Councilman Bobby Henon was convicted earlier this year.
This trial is expected to last for about three weeks.MORE NEWS: Police: 4-Year-Old In Stable But Critical Condition After Being Struck By SUV In West Philly
CBS3’s Howard Monroe and Siafa Lewis contributed to this report.