Harrisburg PA (January 2020)--A former Democratic state representative who officials say took money from her nonprofit and spent it on vacations and luxury items was sentenced to three months behind bars.
Former Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell also was sentenced to 8½ months of house arrest, 11½ months on parole, and then two years of probation following her guilty plea to felony charges of theft by unlawful taking, theft by deception, perjury, and misdemeanor charges of tampering with public records, according to a statement from Attorney General Josh Shapiro. She pleaded no contest Thursday to two misdemeanor charges of reporting by political candidates and committees, statement of financial interests in a Philadelphia courtroom.
Johnson-Harrell was the founder of the Philadelphia-based Motivation, Education and Consultation Associates (MECA). The nonprofit operated personal care homes starting in 2013 for people who could not support themselves for a variety of reasons.
After officials found residents in unlivable conditions, the homes were abruptly shut down by MECA, “kicking residents to the curb, leaving them to find new living arrangements or enter into actual treatment,” Shapiro said when announcing the charges against Johnson-Harrell in December. “But Johnson-Harrell continued to collect monthly rent payments from MECA funds for these properties despite the fact that the organization was no longer using them.”
Johnson-Harrell diverted an estimated $500,000 to her personal and campaign accounts, according to Shapiro’s office.
“This Philadelphia community would have been in a better place had this former public official invested MECA’s money into the people who needed the care she promised,” Shapiro said. “Instead, the community received no help as Johnson-Harrell spent MECA money on fur coats, Porsche car payments and expensive vacations for herself.
Johnson-Harrell stepped down in December after Shapiro announced the charges, and she disputed some of the allegations against her but said she intended “to accept responsibility for any actions that were inappropriate.”
The legislative seat was formerly held by Democrat Vanessa Lowery Brown, who resigned after she was convicted in December of 2018 on bribery charges. Johnson-Harrell took office in March 2019 after winning a special election.
“Corruption erodes the trust that is built between government entities and citizens,” Shapiro said. “Philadelphia is entitled to honest services and, hopefully, the good people here will begin to receive them now that justice has been served.”
A special election to fill Johnson-Harrell’s seat will be held Feb. 25.
published here with permission of The Center Square