The Government of Liberia, through a hired legal counsel in the United States of America, took a bold step in pursuit of Melvin Johnson, who the complainant referred to as ‘the companion’ of Ellen Corkrum, by filing a grievance against him with the State of Georgia (USA) Bar, of which Johnson is a member.
In a 5 page letter dated May 28, 2014, Stephen M. Schneebaum of Fox Rothschild LLP conveyed GOL’s complaint alleging that Johnson, while in Liberia, “violated the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct… through engagement in acts both illegal and reflecting moral turpitude.”
Such alleged acts, according to the letter, include defrauding the Liberia Airport Authority, which was under the directorship of his ‘social and/or romantic partner’ Ellen Corkrum at the time, and attempting to practice law in the Republic of Liberia when his application for admission to the Liberia Bar was never passed upon by the board of examiners. However, GOL goes further to allege that Johnson’s actions constitute economic sabotage, resulting in a Special Grand Jury indictment and seeks punitive action upon him from State of Georgia Bar, as well as his extradition from the USA to face the charges on Liberian soil.
Johnson, who was recently removed from the post, Chief Municipal Court Judge for the City of Lithonia, Georgia, is still practicing law in the State of Georgia through his law firm, Melvin Johnson and Associates, Inc.
“The facts as set out in Count Two of the indictment… and the documents tendered to the Grand Jury in support show that funds supposedly intended to be used for review and upgrade of security at RIA were remitted to the IOLTA account of Mr. Johnson’s law firm, Melvin Johnson and Associates, Inc.,” the letter submits. “[This entity appears to be the law firm owned and controlled by Mr. Johnson and operating in Stone Mountain, Georgia. To the best of our knowledge, no member of the firm is a Member of the Bar of the Republic of Liberia. The firm was also indicted by the Special Grand Jury for Monserrado County.] Why and how that arrangement was made is unknown to us, since there is no reason to believe that Mr. Johnson had any role to play in providing security services to the LAA. [IOLTA accounts are normally held by law firms to segregate interest earned by client funds in their temporary custody. There is no evidence known to us to suggest that any security contractor was a client of Mr. Johnson or his law firm, and of course if it were, that would implicate a direct conflict of interest, given that Mr. Johnson also claims to have represented the LAA.]”
“It is the Government’s contention”, continues the letter, “that Ms. Corkrum misused her position for her own personal pecuniary gain and that of others, and she was indicted by the same Special Grand Jury that returned a true bill against Mr. Johnson. She is accused of having diverted a significant contract for runway renovation at Liberia’s international airport to a shell company, of misusing public funds intended for the purchase of computer hardware and peripherals, and of conspiring with Mr. Johnson to steer funds intended to pay for airport security to him without any expectation that he or his company would be qualified, able, or willing to perform the work. Mr. Johnson and Ms. Corkrum departed from Liberia – having been informed that their conduct described in the indictment was under investigation – in mid-February, 2013.
Johnson’s companion, Ellen Corkrum, who made a name in Liberia for having secretly taped conversations with numerous high-ranking government officials including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, implicating them in alleged corrupt practices which the letter addresses:
“Apparently in an effort to forestall or block a criminal investigation, he and Ms. Corkrum began to arrange meetings with Government ministers and other high officials of the Republic of Liberia. The purposes of these meetings apparently were to enlist support for Ms. Corkrum in preemptively defeating any criminal charges, and eliciting embarrassing or compromising statements from Government figures that could then be used to discredit them. Ms. Corkrum carried with her a hidden tape-recording device, the presence of which she did not disclose to her interlocutors, and made an audiotape of each of her meetings. Mr. Johnson was in attendance with her, and colluded with her in carrying out this campaign of intimidation intending, perhaps, to lead to either financial or political blackmail.
“Ms. Corkrum and Mr. Johnson have released several of the tapes for broadcast by mass media operating in Liberia. Some in the press have speculated that they are part of a political agenda of the couple, portraying themselves as “whistleblowers” and “white knight” characters perhaps available to offer themselves as candidates for political office. Mr. Johnson’s voice may be heard on some if not all of the recordings. There is no question that he was physically present, and that he participated in the illicit taping. Both Ms. Corkrum and Mr. Johnson have appeared on live radio talk shows broadcast in Liberia, in which he has held himself out as an adviser to Ms. Corkrum in all aspects of this illegal operation.
In Liberia, as in many States in the United States (including Georgia), it is a criminal act to record a conversation with another person without his or her consent. The relevant statutory law in Liberia is Chapter 19 of the Criminal Code (“offenses against the right of privacy”), sections 19.1(c), 19.2(b), and 19.2(c). Exhibit E. Divulging the contents of an illegally-recorded conversation to others is a separate offense, of which both Ms. Corkrum and Mr. Johnson are likely guilty as well.”
The full text of the letter is published with this story and in print on page 8 of the June 9, 2014 edition of the Daily Observer.