CLEVELAND (AP) _ A state senator who is running for Congress is accused of demanding $17,000 in loans and campaign gifts from grocery store owners in exchange for helping them obtain various state and county licenses.
Sen. Jeffrey Johnson said he is innocent and will stay in the race for the 11th Congressional District.
``They are lies and I am going to fight it,″ the 39-year-old Democrat said Wednesday. ``I want the voters to know that I did not do this and, when given the opportunity, I will prove it.″
Johnson was charged Wednesday with two violations of the federal Hobbs Act, which covers extortion of public officials, and two counts of mail fraud. A violation of the Hobbs Act carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; a mail fraud conviction carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Johnson is accused of demanding the money in exchange for helping the grocery owners obtain contracts to participate in the Ohio Women, Infants and Children nutrition-assistance program and to get state liquor licenses, federal food stamp contracts and state lottery contracts.
Johnson received a total of $7,000 in unrepaid ``loans″ and $10,000 in campaign contributions, the Justice Department said.
The senator schemed to ``deprive the citizens of Ohio of his honest services between February 1994 and March 1996,″ the department said. The charges resulted from an FBI investigation in which a witness recorded conversations with him.
Johnson, who has represented Cleveland’s east side in the state Senate since 1990, emphatically denied ever providing anything of value in return for contributions from the FBI’s source. A check of his campaign reports and ethics statements confirmed the contributions were recorded.
``If I was trying to hide something, I wouldn’t disclose it on my ethics statements,″ Johnson said today in The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Johnson announced last month he would run for the congressional seat now held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Louis Stokes, who is retiring at the end of the year.