Ed. Note: We have corrected the amount of money that Michael Johnson allegedly stole from the city. On Wednesday, city officials placed the figure at $555,000. However, they added that the number could change as the investigation continues. We regret the error.
PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Former Panama City head of the Community Redevelopment Agency Michael Johnson allegedly stole more than a million dollars from Panama City over a ten-year period. On Tuesday he was charged with money laundering and 19 counts of official misconduct.
Panama City Police said Johnson bought nine homes and four cars with city money. The cars were a BMW 528i, Dodge Charger, Ford Thunderbird and a Chevy Silverado.
Police said Johnson stole $555,000 from the city. They added that the total amount could change as their investigation continues.
Police said Johnson laundered money from the Friends of After School Assistance Program to buy the homes. He then used CRA money to hire contractors to renovate at least two homes on Grace Avenue.
“As far as the money laundering, there were checks written from the ASAP account to his personal account,” Panama City Police Detective Johnathan Ramsey said. “And then those funds were used to purchase properties over time.”
Police said they are still investigating whether or not Johnson used CRA funds to renovate other homes he purchased. Police officials do not believe contractors knew about Johnson’s alleged crimes.
According to the Bay County Property Appraiser, Johnson bought all nine homes from 2013-2021. Police previously said Johnson stole $470,000 from the after-school program from 2012-2022. The checks ranged from several thousand dollars to $38,000.
“The investigation is ongoing, we’re working in connection with the FBI,” Ramsey said.
In February 2021 the Department of Housing and Urban Development issued findings and a concern over Johnson’s management as the director of community development and as the director of the after-school program.
Panama City City Manager Mark Mcqueen told News 13 that Johnson’s scheme unraveled when he confronted Johnson about unrelated management practices. McQueen said Johnson immediately resigned.
The city later found out Johnson was the only signator for the after-school program.
Johnson is also accused of sending $100,000 to a local contractor by allegedly requesting four checks for under $25,000 on the same day. The checks were approved by the city manager.
But if one check had been written for $100,000, it would have triggered a review by the city commission. Throughout Johnson’s time working for the city he regularly received substantial raises.
When he was first hired 18 years ago he made just over $50,000. By this year his salary was $98,000.
Panama City commissioner Josh Street has asked for a full forensic audit of Panama City’s budget.
Here is Panama City’s statement about the recent charges:
Statement from City Manager Mark McQueen regarding the additional charges filed against former Community Development Director Michael Johnson:
On Oct. 20, the Panama City Police Department arrested a former director of the City of Panama City, Michael Johnson, on a charge of Grand Theft over $100,000.
Below is a summary of previously disclosed facts:
- Johnson’s charges originated with the discovery by city staff of checks written by Johnson, to himself, from Friends of After School Assistance Program, a nonprofit corporation. The nonprofit is a separate entity from the city and supports the city-operated After School Assistance Program.
- The discovery of these checks came nine days after Johnson resigned, in the wake of being confronted by City Manager Mark McQueen regarding unrelated, unacceptable management practices.
- The city immediately turned over its findings to law enforcement. Johnson was arrested about a week later.
At the time of Johnson’s arrest, the City of Panama City was aware that this investigation would be ongoing and could expand in scope.
Nevertheless, we are not just disappointed, we are angered by the new revelations from law enforcement about the scope of Mr. Johnson’s alleged criminal activity. These new charges against Johnson reveal a shocking pattern of abuse of the public trust that is counter to professionalism and integrity embodied by the hundreds of city employees that carry out their duties every day.
While, at this juncture, Mr. Johnson’s allegedly egregious actions appear to be done unilaterally, the City of Panama City recognizes that a complete review of our policies is required to do everything possible to minimize the risk of this happening again. That is why, upon the unanimous vote of the city commission, we are currently moving forward with a forensic audit of our policies and procedures.
As brazen as this alleged criminal activity appears, we understand that the investigation is ongoing, and we will continue our cooperation with law enforcement until it uncovers any and all criminal activity associated with this case.