DETROIT (WWJ) – A state Senator from Highland Park has resigned from office after pleading guilty to conspiracy and theft charges.

Bertram “Bert” Johnson, Jr., admitted to putting a no-show “ghost employee” on his staff from March 2014 through January 2015, paying her $23,000 to pay off a personal debt.

U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider says Johnson treated taxpayer money as his own, and that the so-called employees, Glynis Thornton, did no work for the money.  “Such an egregious abuse of power will not be tolerated,” he added, in a statement.

Johnson, a 44-year-old Democrat, faces a statutory maximum penalty of ten years in prison; but, as part of a plea deal, he is only expected to spend up to a year behind bars.  He must also repay $23,000 to the state of Michigan.

Thornton cooperated with investigators after getting caught in a separate corruption case involving bribes for a Detroit school principal.

“This investigation and subsequent plea reinforces the FBI’s commitment to hold public officials accountable by exposing those who engage in criminal conduct at taxpayer expense,” said Jeffery E. Peterson, Acting Special Agent in Charge of FBI Detroit. “We ask that anyone who has information regarding similar actions by any public official contact Detroit or their nearest FBI field office.”

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof’s office told WWJ Newsradio 950 that Johnson submitted a letter of resignation, effective March 2, and that Meekhof has accepted his resignation.

The letter is brief and reads, “It is with profound regret that I tender my resignation, effective March 2, 2018.”
Senator Johnson will be removed from payroll today. State senators have a defined contribution plan. I do not know whether or not Senator Johnson participated in that benefit.”

Meekhof’s office added that the Majority Leader is deeply disappointed that a senator would misuse his office to commit fraud, and that he is glad Johnson took swift action to resign.

Sentencing is set for Aug. 7.

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