Controversies

Michigan lawmaker charged with paying 'ghost' employee

Michigan State Sen. Bert Johnson, D-Highland Park, is seen in a May 14, 2015 photo.

Michigan State Sen. Bert Johnson, D-Highland Park, is seen in a May 14, 2015 photo.  (Dale G. Young/The Detroit News via AP)

A Michigan state lawmaker is accused of putting a “ghost” employee on his office payroll to repay her for $14,000 in personal loans.

Sen. Bert Johnson, D-Highland Park, was indicted Tuesday on charges of conspiracy and theft, two weeks after FBI agents raided his home and Lansing office.

Johnson allegedly listed the worker as a “community liaison,” but she was actually a “ghost” employee who had lend money to the lawmaker, the indictment said. The grand jury said the person was paid $23,000 for no work over nine months. Johnson’s lawyer denied there was a crime.

“Based on what we looked at and who worked for him, he has not had any ghost employees," attorney Cyril Hall told radio station WWJ.

The person who lent the money to Johnson is identified in the indictment only as a "cooperating witness" and the owner of a company called M.A.D.E. The owner is Glynis Thornton.

Theft of public money "by elected public officials, as these charges allege, is disheartening and will not be tolerated," said Daniel Lemisch, the acting U.S. attorney in Detroit.

After the March 27 search of his home and office, Johnson told reporters that he's "an open book." He's been a state lawmaker since 2006, first in the House.

"I've worked very hard to build a reputation I think people trust," Johnson said.

He is the fifth Michigan lawmaker to be charged with a crime since May 2015.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.