GRC Nominee, David Johnson Spent the Weekend in the Notorious Rikers Island Prison

By Siahyonkron Nyanseor



The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
July 12, 2005

Send Money From Around The World 24/7_1
On Sunday, July 3, 2005, this writer was contacted by the chairperson of a Liberian watchdog group known as CLEAN SWEEP, whose proclaimed aim is to weed out from “their beloved country immoral, unscrupulous and broad day thieves that seek employment in Liberia for the sole purpose of stealing from our people.” During our discussion, the chairperson informed me that Mr. David K. Johnson, a nominee for membership of the Governance Reform Commission (GRC) of the Liberian government, was being investigated for financial impropriety involving a business transaction with the Liberian Community Association of Staten Island in New York.

Mr. Johnson represents the New York County (Manhattan) Chapter of ULAA on the National Board of Directors of ULAA. He is Also the Co-chairman of the Board of Directors, Liberia Council on Foreign Relations, headed by Governance Reform Commission member, Mr. Ijoma Flemister. According Mr. Johnson’s associates, he has been in the United States for a period over 12 years.

The Clean Sweep chairperson provided, in addition to the name of Mr. Johnson, the names of Messrs. James Davis, Walter James Weah, George Billy Curtis, and Sam A. Daniel as individuals, he said, were directly involved or were acquainted with the fraud committed by Mr. Johnson. On the same day, July 3, I contacted Messrs. Davis, Weah, and Daniel for their side of the story. I also contacted Mr. Jaybloh Nagbe Sloh to obtain Mr. Johnson’s telephone number without success. Mr. Sloh had written an article earlier that day very day in which he quoted Mr. Johnson as saying, "I Ate No Body's Money," so I thought he had Mr. Johnson’s contact information. However, I was able to obtain Mr. Johnson’s number from Mr. Daniel the next day, and attempts were made to contact Mr. Johnson without success.

While we were still conducting the investigation, I received a call from Mr. Daniel on Saturday morning; July 9, to inform me that the local police had arrested Mr. David Johnson on Friday, July 8, 2005, arraigned, and sent him to New York’s notorious Rikers Island Penitentiary on charges of fraud and grand larceny. Mr. Johnson’s bill hearing is set for Thursday, July 14, 2005 at the Richmond County Criminal Court.

Although attempts were ongoing to have Mr. Johnson settle his obligation with the community association, the issue renewed aggressively when the Staten Island Liberian Community leaders learned of the nomination of Mr. Johnson by Chairman C. Gyude Bryant to serve on the Governance Reform Commission (GRC) of the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL), a Commission established to promote good governance in Liberia.

In his letter of appointment, dated June 20, 2005, Chairman Bryant informed Mr. Johnson, “A number of institutions and well respected individuals have recommended that, given your professional profile, you be considered to served on the Commission.

"In view of the above and in consideration of the response you have given to contacts made with you by members of my staff. I am pleased to inform you that, in keeping with Article XVI (3a), of the CPA, I have today, forwarded your name to the National Transitional Legislative Assembly (NTLA) for confirmation.

" Upon receipt of this letter, I ask that you kindly submit yourself to the NTLA for the confirmation proceedings.”

The Acting Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Liberian Community Association in Staten Island, Mr. Walters James Weah said the Bryant appointment letter to Mr. Johnson forced them to take immediate action against Mr. Johnson. “Based on the above letter and denial and acquisition by Mr. Johnson and his supported, we had no other choice but to go publicly and pursue legal redress,” Mr. Weah told me in an interview.

Mr. Weah and party subsequently sent an open letter to Chairman Bryant to withdraw the nomination of Mr. Johnson on the Governance Reform Commission. Find below excerpts of the letter:

“…As you may have heard by now, Mr. Johnson is a Liberian national who pride himself in scamming and stealing from innocent Liberians living at home and abroad, especially older Liberians who do not have the capacity to pursue him legally. Because of his successes in this kind of business, Mr. Johnson recently scammed the Staten Island Liberian Community out of more then $9000 which were intended to be used to ship relief goods to families in Liberia. Further investigation reveals that Mr. Johnson was fired from his employment because he engaged in similar behavior, victimizing other Liberians. The Detectives Division of the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the Richmond County District Attorney (DA) is currently handling this issue.

“…While your intentions to engage and encourage qualified, patriotic Liberians to go home and contribute to the development of Liberia are welcome, it is your administration's responsibility to ensure that corruption at all levels and criminals like Mr. Johnson have no place in Liberia. We must never endorse criminals by rewarding then positions in the government or any public entity. The people of Liberia are tired of corruption!

“…As we wait to see the end result of our protest and the current legal actions against Mr. Johnson which is pending in New York, it is my recommendation that in the future, you encourage your staff to perform proper background check of individuals seeking public office. The background check should include basic interviews with the community in which these individuals lived and worked.”

According to Mr. Daniel, Mr. Johnson’s outright denial and challenge – that they seek legal action, made matter worse. As a result, “we forwarded documents in our possession regarding his fraud activities to Liberian news outlets on Monday, July 4, 2005, including The Perspective,” says, Mr. Daniel. He stated further that, “although we are of the same ethnic background, I do not take pity on those whose intention is, to tarnish the already tarnished name of my country. So we did exactly what he told us to do.”

As The Perspective was conducting its investigation, we were informed that the issue was brought to the attention of the President of ULAA at the time, Mrs. Roberta Rashid. When Mrs. Rashid was contacted, she admitted being told verbally, but advised Mr. George Billy Curtis, the president of the Staten Island Liberian Community Association to reduce it in writing to her and copy the Chairman of the National Board, Mr. Anthony V. Kesselly in order to have the matter address. Mrs. Rashid added that, she was never contacted again; therefore, when she was leaving office, she could not pass it onto the incoming administration (Mr. Watson). She stated that several days ago, she initiated a conference call with Mr. Curtis and Mr. Kesselly, the current Chairman of the National Board to set the record straight (that her administration knew about the problem and did nothing about it). She said that Mr. Curtis admitted being advised by her to reduce his verbal complaint into writing but did not do it at the time because there was a pending ULAA national election.

When Mr. Curtis was contacted by The Perspective, to confirm or deny Mrs. Rashid’s account of the story, and if he had since filed a written complaint with the current ULAA administration, he said no, “they were aware of it.”

On Sunday, July 10, 2005, The Perspective contacted Mr. Arthur Watson to obtain his side of the story, and to find out if he or any of the officials of ULAA had recommended Mr. Johnson to the GRC. According to Mr. Watson, he did not, and is not aware of any ULAA official recommending Mr. Johnson for the position at the GRC. He added, ULAA has been accused of supporting Mr. Johnson in the case with the Staten Island Liberian Community Association. He went on to say, “In fact when the issue between Mr. Johnson and the Staten Island Community Association became public, I contacted Mr. Johnson, he ensured me that as far as he was concern, he had done nothing wrong. ULAA also initiated similar call to the leadership of the Staten Island Liberian Community Association, who assured him that the matter was being handled.”

On Wednesday, July 6, 2005, ULAA issued a press release regarding the matter. In the press release, ULAA stated:

“…When news of Mr. Johnson’s nomination became public, ULAA received several telephone calls from the press and individuals wanting information on Mr. Johnson. We also received few calls from individual members in the Liberian Community of Staten Island and elsewhere requesting ULAA to stop the nomination of Mr. Johnson on the allegation that Mr. Johnson was guilty of certain unethical activities in the Staten Island area. The National President of ULAA, Mr. Arthur K. Watson, immediately placed a call to Mr. George Curtis, President of the Staten Island Community Association (SILCA) to ascertain information on the allegations. Mr. David Johnson was also contacted and informed of the allegations that were being made against him and to inform him that ULAA was concerned and that ULAA would pursue the allegations to obtain more information. The ULAA President subsequently also spoke with Mr. James Weah of SILCA and informed Mr. Weah that the present Administration of ULAA was never aware of past allegations against Mr. Johnson and therefore requested to Mr. Weah that SILCA submit to the ULAA administration any relevant document in support of the allegations against Mr. Johnson. Mr. Weah and Mr. Curtis both claimed that the past administration of ULAA was informed and made aware of the allegations against Mr. Johnson. But neither this present Administration nor the present Board Leadership of ULAA was aware of these allegations until now.

“While the present ULAA Administration has a stated policy against any official of ULAA occupying his or her official position in ULAA while pursuing employment with the government of Liberia or actively participating in election politics, ULAA as an institution has to operate within the framework of the Laws of this land. And, as much as many of the officials of ULAA are troubled by the nomination of Mr. Johnson to serve on the GRC and also by the allegations now being made against the character of Mr. Johnson, ULAA cannot take the laws into our hands to pass summary judgment against Mr. Johnson without the benefit of a full and impartial investigation. ULAA has therefore chosen to thread cautiously because no matter how troubled we are by the allegations against Mr. Johnson, we are equally expected to respect the rights of Mr. Johnson.

“ULAA is very troubled by the inferences being made in the public that ULAA is slow to action or does not want to take the necessary actions against Mr. Johnson because Mr. Johnson may be a friend of the ULAA Administration. This assumption could not be further from the truth. ULAA therefore wants to make it very clear that we are totally opposed to any member or official of ULAA who may be guilty of any form of corruption and we totally disassociate the Union from all such individuals. ULAA is reviewing all allegations being made against Mr. Johnson and also reviewing Mr. Johnson’s explanations and positions on these allegations. When all of the evidences have been reviewed and if it is verified that Mr. David Johnson is guilty of these allegations against him, ULAA will not hesitate to take appropriate actions. But until then, ULAA will not pass any judgment in the matter.”

Pending $50,000.00 bill hearing, Mr. Johnson spent the weekend in the notorious Rikers Island Penitentiary. Rikers Island Penitentiary, according to Jennifer Wynn, the author of INSIDE RIKER'S: Stories From the World's Largest Penal Colony, is six miles from the Empire State Building; and is considered one of the largest, most complex and expensive penal institutions in the world, “yet most New Yorkers couldn't find it on a map. Like many prisons in America, Rikers performs an expert magic trick: it disappears people, keeping in those who want to get out and keeping out those who want to get in.”

Finally, what lesson have we gained from this issue? It is safe to say, when in “glass house”, don’t throw stones; in other words, “never take people for a ride”, especially, in these times when the transmitting of information globally is in a matter of seconds - via the Internet. Unlike yester years, there are many watchdog groups in the Diaspora and Liberia that are not going to sit by to have individuals whose ONLY intention is to seek employment in Liberia to “steal” the Liberian people’s resources (money included) for their personal use. Especially so, when the Bryant Administration cannot ensure adherence to the basic principles of good governance, accountability, and transparency.