GREENBELT, Md. (WUSA9) -- The last of 17 defendants in an extortion scheme in Prince George's County involving former county executive Jack Johnson will spend two years in prison.
Tuesday, Prince George's developer Daniel Ira Colton was sentenced to two years in prison followed by three years of supervised release for conspiracy to commit extortion and to make false statements to the Federal Election Commission. He was also ordered to pay a $50,000 fine.
According to court documents, in early 2006, FBI and IRS-CI agents began investigating corruption, campaign finance violations, and tax fraud allegations related to real estate developers and Prince George's County officials. They found a "pay‑to‑play" culture in the county in which real estate developers, including Colton, and other business owners provided things of value public officials, including then-county executive Jack Johnson, and their surrogates in return for official acts.
Colton, developer Patrick Ricker and retired Prince George's County Fire Department official Karl Granzo had an ownership interest in Greenbelt Metropark, which sought to build a mixed-use project near the Greenbelt Metro Station called Greenbelt Station, according to officials. Colton and his co-conspirators also had an interest in Day Homes, which was incorporated to construct single family homes in Maryland, say officials.
According to Colton's guilty plea and court documents, from 1997 through at least September 11, 2008, Colton, Ricker, Granzow and others offered money, trip expenses, meals, drinks, hotel rooms, airline tickets, and other items to state and local government officials, including former Director of Prince George's County Department of Housing and Community Development James Edward Johnson. Documents show from 2001 through 2004, Colton was serving a 38-month federal sentence for conspiracy and bank fraud related to development projects in Maryland and a loss to the victim bank of $15 million to $20 million.
State and local officials performed and agreed to perform favorable official actions for Colton, Ricker, Granzow and others in exchange for bribes. That included "approval letters for the Greenbelt Station Detailed Site Plan; assisting in the acquisition of surplus property and land from the county for development by Day Homes; providing the conspirators with non-public county information; obtaining necessary state and local approvals and permits for Greenbelt Station and other developments and businesses in the county; voting in favor of legislation favorable to their development projects; and, ensuring that a certain developer would obtain a contract to purchase certain buildings for the county," according to court officials.
State and local officials hid what they received by failing to report them or by misrepresenting their nature and value. Colton and his co-conspirators concealed campaign contributions to the state and local officials that were above state and federal legal limits by using conduits and in-kind contributions, according to documents. Colton and his co-conspirators also provided in-kind contributions to conceal the actual amount of their campaign contributions, such as campaign signs, food, alcohol and the administrative services of their employees and family members.
Colton, Ricker, Granzow and others conspired to provide between $400,000 and $1 million in bribes to public officials in return for official action. Colton pleaded guilty under seal to the charges on September 13, 2010.
Other defendants that have been convicted in the related investigations of corruption, including Jack Johnson, then County Executive and former State's Attorney; Leslie Johnson, an elected County Councilwoman and Jack Johnson's wife; Mirza Hussain Baig, a physician and developer in the County; Amrik Singh Melhi, an owner of businesses in the county; and, Ravinder Melhi, an owner of numerous businesses in the county. They also pleaded guilty to extortion, bribery, state and federal campaign finance violations, and fraud, which all evolved from the pay-to-play culture in the county. They have been sentenced to up to 87 months in prison.