1. Archive

Ex-speaker's troubles trip others in his path

Former House Speaker Bo Johnson's courtroom days are over, but there is much more to come for others who were involved around the edges of his tax fraud conviction.

In New Jersey next month, Bally, the gambling company, will be fighting to hang onto its lucrative gaming licenses in Atlantic City. It seems the N.J. Division of Gaming Enforcement has taken a dim view of the payments Bally made to Johnson.

In 1994, while Johnson was one of the state's most powerful Democrats, Bally paid him $170,000. Johnson failed to report $110,000 of that as income and ran afoul of the IRS.

Florida law doesn't make the payments illegal. Only when he failed to report the income did Johnson run into trouble. New Jersey law looks at the payments as something akin to a bribe, and its state investigators have spent a lot of time and trouble trying to document exactly what Bally got for its money.

The Bally money and a few other omissions _ a total of $503,000 in unreported income _ led to Johnson's trial and a two-year jail sentence. His wife, Judi, will go to jail for 15 months. They have to report to prison by Aug. 30, a week before Bally goes before the New Jersey Commission.

A few days after the Johnsons go to prison, several other people who got in trouble as a result of their conduct during the Johnson trial will be in federal court in Pensacola explaining themselves to U.S. District Judge Lacey Collier.

Doug Guetzloe, an Orlando political consultant who helped Bally and worked with Johnson in 1994, has been ordered to show cause why he shouldn't be held in contempt of court for comments he made to a Pensacola newspaper while he was a witness under court instructions to refrain from discussing the case.

Likewise Kip Jackson, a former legislative aide for Johnson, also talked to the local newspaper while under the same instruction.

Two jurors also face the judge's wrath _ one for deciding that he would ignore the court's instructions and read and watch daily news accounts and another for failing to disclose his preconceived feeling that Johnson was guilty as well as being an old acquaintance with the Johnson family. Both were removed from the jury early in the trial and did not participate in the decision making.

Judge Collier is not a man to trifle with.

He already has chewed out Jackson and Guetzloe in open court. They had better hope he's had time to cool off before they face him again.

The big unanswered question in the wake of Johnson's trial and conviction is whether anyone else will be in trouble. As improbable as it seems, it is unlikely that any of the lobbyists and businesses who paid Johnson will face criminal charges since the statute of limitations for making most charges has elapsed and no one has come forward to describe why the payments were made.

You can bet that Anderson Columbia, the road building company; lobbyists Frank Mirabella and Damon Smith; Integrated Health Systems; U.S. Strategies; Clayton Brown & Associates; Archive America and the others who paid money to the Johnsons got something for their money in addition to notoriety.

Some company officials admitted they were paying the money just to gain the influence of having a speaker on their payroll, but those who didn't refuse to testify insist they got nothing specific.

The whole soap opera could well lead to a change in the way some legislators and lobbyists do business. It might even lead to a change in the law _ if there are enough legislators who see the problem in taking huge fees from those who need a favor.

Many legislators were absolutely appalled to learn that Johnson was accepting huge payments from special interests while also serving as speaker and controlling the flow of bills moving through the Legislature.

We all know of legislators who have been put on payrolls in what would appear to be "no show jobs," but to have a speaker sitting there with his hand out is more than Floridians should have to take from those who would be our leaders.