Probation for legislative aide involved in illegal drug transaction
By MICHAEL P. RELLAHAN, Staff Writer
WEST CHESTER — A former legislative aide to state Rep. Tim Hennessey and member of a well-known Coatesville political family was sentenced to five years’ probation Monday for her role in a drug-related transaction involving her former live-in boyfriend.
Lisa Johnson will be required to spend three months on electronic home confinement at the start of her probationary sentence, but she escaped having to serve time at Chester County Prison, as the prosecution had requested, for her crime.
A tearful Johnson begged Judge Antony Sarcione to show mercy on her by “keeping her in the community,” where those who spoke in her support Monday said she played a vital role helping the less fortunate.
“This is the greatest mistake I ever made in my life,” Johnson said in a letter to Sarcione that her attorney, Thomas Bellwoar of West Chester, read because she was too emotionally distraught to speak. “I trusted someone who I thought loved me. I will never, ever be hoodwinked by anyone again.”
Johnson was praised at her sentencing by many leaders in the Coatesville community, including Hennessey, who said that her crime was a “mistake she has paid for dearly. Love makes people do crazy things.”
According to Assistant District Attorney Anne Marie Wheatcraft, who prosecuted Johnson, a confidential informant working with the Chester County Drug Task Force had been in contact with John Tinson, Johnson’s longtime boyfriend, about purchasing cocaine.
On Sept. 20, 2009, the informant called Tinson at the home he and Johnson shared. They arranged for the informant to bring $3,000 in cash to the house and for him to pick up a half-ounce of cocaine then and 1½ ounces later.
When the informant visited the house, Tinson was away. So Johnson took the $3,000 from him but the informant did not ask for any drugs and was given none. Later, when Tinson delivered the drugs to the informant, Tinson said Johnson would have given him the half-ounces if he had asked.
Earlier this year, Johnson pleaded guilty to the charge of dealing in unlawful proceeds. She agreed to testify against Tinson if he went to trial.
On Sept. 29, Tinson pleaded guilty to drug delivery charges and was sentenced to five to 10 years in state prison.
Bellwoar said Johnson’s intention to testify against him was among the reasons Tinson had decided to plead guilty.
Wheatcraft said that although her office had decided not to pursue drug delivery or conspiracy charges against Johnson and was waiving the mandatory $100,000 fine and the possibility of three years in state prison, the case still warranted some prison time because of its seriousness.
“This was a lot of drugs,” she said. “(Johnson) knew this was going on in the house. She knew what he was doing, and that he was doing it out of her home. While the court may be inclined to mitigate her sentence to some degree, full probation would not be appropriate.”
Bellwoar, however, said that his client’s lack of a criminal background, strong character ties to the Coatesville community, and remorse should be enough to prove to the court she deserved leniency.
Even though Bellwoar acknowledged that Johnson knew the money she was accepting from the informant was for drugs, he blamed Tinson for bringing her into his drug dealing operation. “He was able to manipulate her in this one-time incident,” he said.
“You do not have to put her in jail to send a message,” Bellwoar told Sarcione. “Lisa has already sent a message … of how far you can fall.”
Since her arrest last year, Johnson was suspended without pay from her position as a legislative aide to Hennessey, and from her position as program coordinator at the Coatesville Youth and Women’s Association. She has not been able to find a new job and cannot pay her mortgage or car payments without help from her family, Bellwoar said.
She also resigned her position as Judge of Elections in Coatesville, he said.
Those who spoke on her behalf described a hard-working woman who went out of her way to help those in the city not just through her legislative duties but also through her own initiative — driving people to and from work or errands, helping get children to school, and other favors.
Her father, former city Council President Rodger Johnson, said that she had never been involved in drugs in her life and that he took a hard line against such activity.
“My daughter doesn’t drink, she doesn’t smoke, and she doesn’t do drugs,” Rodger Johnson told Sarcione, grasping his daughter around her shoulders as he stood before the bench. “It’s hard for me to understand the mess she’s in. She’s not a drug pusher.”
Others either attending the hearing or speaking on her behalf included her brother, former City Council President Kareem Johnson; former city Council President Patsy Ray; former District Magisterial Judge Robert Davis; funeral director Emmett Golden Hunt; and former attorney John Emerson High. Sarcione also said that he had received a letter of recommendation from fired City Manager Harry Walker.
In crafting his sentence, Sarcione said he balanced all the positive things that those people said and the evidence that showed that Johnson had little or no dealings in Tinson’s operation. He said it was clear that she did not benefit from any proceeds in the drug sales by way of an opulent lifestyle.
He also pointed out that Tinson himself has said Johnson had no role in his operation.
(Sarcione, coincidentally, is the judge who sentenced one of Johnson’s two children, David “Science” Johnson, to three to six years in state prison for shooting his aunt’s former boyfriend in a family dispute.)
Although he said hat she had done was a “serious, serious offense,” he nonetheless did not think she would be a danger to society. “It appears this was a one-time incident,” Sarcione said. “She’s done a lot to benefit the community.”