PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — A former Panama City department head has been sentenced to prison. Michael Johnson was sentenced to eight years in prison after embezzling more than a million dollars from the City of Panama City.
Johnson could have been sentenced to up to 155 years for his crimes.
“I mean, the fact that he is surrendering his life for eight years to sit in prison is very difficult,” Panama City City Manager Mark McQueen said. “Certainly with all of the charges that we’re facing him, it could have been up to 155 years if all ran consecutively.”
Five months after Johnson resigned as the head of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), the 62-year-old agreed to a no-contest plea deal with the 14th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office.
In November we reported Johnson stole more than $1,000,000 from Panama City. On Thursday officials confirmed that amount.
They said Johnson stole more than a million dollars from The Friends of After School Program (ASAP).
The embezzlement occurred over a ten-year period. Johnson also stole more than $100,000 from the CRA, which he oversaw. Johnson purchased 11 homes and three cars with ASAP funds.
He used the CRA money to hire contractors to renovate homes, then rented them out. Some of the tenants still live there.
“We believe that restitution will be made, and certainly the children of Panama City and certainly the taxpayers within the CRA will be made whole,” McQueen said.
Initially, Panama City Police said Johnson bought four cars, but one could not be traced back to the stolen money.
“We had to follow the money in these and what purchased what we could not show that money from the ASAP program to his account to the vehicle we couldn’t show the tie to that one vehicle,” Panama City Police Chief Mark Smith said.
The 11 homes and three cars are now worth more than $900,000. The city will also receive $113,000 found in Johnson’s home, as well as almost $370,000 from four of Johnson’s bank accounts. He also forfeited more than $25,000 in vacation, sick pay, and his final city paycheck.
“We’re fortunate that most of the money that was absconded with was invested into assets that we could seize,” Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki said.
Johnson also agreed to forfeit around $330,000 from his government retirement account. He is allowed to keep $67,000 of his own retirement contributions. City officials believe they’ve recovered most, if not all, of the stolen funds.
“We think we’re going to be pretty close,” McQueen said. “If not, that we’ll be over. But we don’t know that because the values of the properties are based on property appraiser values based at the time that they were conveyed over the last ten years.”
Johnson was convicted of grand theft, money laundering, and 19 counts of official misconduct. The deal means the State Attorney’s Office will not add any new charges. Johnson waived his right to a jury trial. He has 30 days to change his mind and appeal the agreement.
Panama City officials plan to sell the houses and cars and return the money to the agencies that were victimized. Officials said they plan the move quickly, but sell everything for what it’s worth.