COLUMBIA, S.C. – Dan Johnson spent two decades in South Carolina and Iraq prosecuting felons. On Tuesday, the former prosecutor became a felon himself.
Johnson pleaded guilty in federal court to wire fraud in a scheme that authorities say stole about $44,000 in public money to spend on hotel rooms and plane flights for vacations and romantic liaisons.
The former 5th Circuit Solicitor in South Carolina faces a maximum of 20 years in prison when he is sentenced later this year, but assistant U.S. Attorney Winston Holliday expects he will ask for a sentence of a year to 18 months behind bars.
Johnson, 48, was elected chief prosecutor for Richland and Kershaw counties in 2010. He began his scheme with top aide Nicole Holland about five years later when the employee who had scrutinized Johnson's work credit card bills left the job, Holliday said.
The two simply took advantage of the lack of oversight, Holliday said.
Holland pleaded guilty earlier to wire fraud for using public money for hotel and orthodontist bills and is also awaiting sentencing.
Johnson and his attorney did not agree Tuesday on the $44,000 amount of public money that prosecutors said he took. That will be hashed out by sentencing. Johnson agreed to pay back all the stolen money as well.
What Johnson and prosecutors did agree on was one particular credit card bill in November 2016 which included hotel stays in Chicago, Las Vegas and Columbia and a plane ticket on a Panamanian airline. That month of expenses formed the basis of Tuesday's plea deal, which dropped about two dozen other charges.
Johnson said nothing in court beyond politely answering the judge's questions. He refused to speak to reporters outside the courthouse.
U.S. Attorney Sherri Lydon said prosecuting Johnson shows what the law should really be about instead of taking advantage of a position of public trust.
"The law comes in one size that fits all," Lydon said outside of the courthouse. "And it most definitely fits Dan Johnson."
Johnson also faces similar state charges, and South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson plans to go forward with that case, spokesman Robert Kittle said.
Johnson spent eight years in the U.S. Army, rising to the rank of captain and becoming a judge advocate. He also spent eight years as an assistant prosecutor and eight years as a deputy over internal affairs and the chief lawyer for the Richland County Sheriff's Department.
Johnson graduated from The Citadel and received South Carolina's highest civilian honor, the Order of the Palmetto, when he was 22 for working with a center helping domestic abuse victims.
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