PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Michael Johnson has now been charged with grand theft over $100,000 and 19 counts of official misconduct after allegedly stealing $555,000 from Panama City.
But police officials said they may turn up more money as the investigation continues.
Panama City Police said Johnson bought homes at 1033 and 1041 Grace Avenue with after-school program funding, then used $85,000 of Community Redevelopment money to repair them.
Police said Johnson bought the homes from Warren Lewis for a total of about $140,000.
The day before the sale was final, Johnson allegedly pulled city permits and falsified applications in Lewis’ name for 1041 grace avenue.
Detectives said he also falsified a permit for 1033 Grace Avenue, saying the city owned it. They said he then requested city checks in Lewis’ name to pay contractors who worked on the homes.
Police officials said they don’t think the contractors knew what was going on. Johnson allegedly used $470,000 from the after-school program money to buy a total of nine homes and four cars.
Johnson still owns all nine houses and is renting them. News 13 stopped at all nine Wednesday. Residents at 1033 Grace Avenue declined our interview request but said Johnson neglected the home.
They said the walls are falling apart and the drywall needs replacing. The bathroom and siding are also cracking. And now they don’t know what to do about rent payments.
Residents at 1033 Grave Ave. said they used to pay rent to Johnson by going to City Hall and dropping money off to Johnson directly or giving checks to receptionists in his department.
Commissioner Josh Street said it is awful what johnson was doing. He said Johnson never should have collected rent at work. Johnson abruptly resigned in October when City Manager Mark McQueen confronted him about his management of the CRA.
But renters said Johnson told them he had simply retired early. The value of Johnson’s nine homes bought with city money is now $710,000.
Panama City Commissioner Jenna Haligas said she is saddened and disappointed about the additional charges.
She’s hoping the forensic audit will minimize the risk of future embezzlement. Street said the audit will look to improve weak policies that may have made it easy for Johnson to enrich himself.
Panama City City Manager Mark McQueen said in a statement that he is disappointed and angered by new revelations. He said the charges show a shocking pattern of abuse of public trust.
Right now he believes Johnson acted alone.