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Philadelphia Councilman Kenyatta Johnson Fights Back Against Federal Corruption Charges Against Him, Wife

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson is fighting back after the United States Attorney's Office announced federal corruption charges against him and three others, including his wife. The 22-count indictment, which was handed down by a federal grand jury, charges Johnson, his wife Dawn Chavous, and Philadelphia businessmen Abdur Rahim Islam and Shahied Dawan with widespread corruption conspiracy, including bribery, honest services fraud, multiple counts of wire fraud, and tax offenses.

A couple miles from federal court and several hours after his indictment, Johnson arrived at a South Philly recreation center for what was more like a hero's welcome with clapping, chanting and stiff denials the U.S. Attorney's case would have much of an effect on his future.

"There is quite a lack in this indictment and we believe that everything that's in there is a stringing together of matters which they've taken innuendo to turn it into something that it isn't," defense attorney Patrick Egan said.

The charges were announced during a press conference at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Center City on Wednesday morning.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams said Islam, a former Universal Community Homes CEO and board president, and Dawan, a former chief financial officer and secretary of Universal's board, wanted a corrupt advantage.

"They wanted to pay to play and they found willing partners in Johnson and his wife, Dawn Chavous," Williams said.

Federal prosecutors say the two business executives paid Johnson to use his power on City Council to re-zone properties in South Philadelphia, including the former Royal Theatre.

The action, it's alleged, paid handsomely for the company and its executives.

Johnson and his wife allegedly received payments of more than $66,000 in exchange for Johnson using his public office to take official actions to benefit Islam, Dawan, and Universal.

"Islam and Dawan paid Kenyatta Johnson, by way of his wife's consulting business, over $66,000 in exchange for Johnson taking official acts to benefit Universal's real estate holdings in Johnson's district," Williams said.

Johnson has been charged with two counts of honest services wire fraud arising from the allegation he performed official actions in exchange for corrupt payments. Chavous, who operates Chavous Consulting, is charged with having entered into a sham consulting agreement in order to receive the corrupt payments for her husband.

But defense attorneys balked at the case. Defense attorney Barry Gross told reporters Chavous did nothing wrong.

"We are extremely disappointed that the United States Department of Justice has charged Dawn. The charges are wrong, offensive and downright sexist," Gross said.

And Johnson maintains the federal investigation over five years was nothing more than harassment.

"I'm relieved that we're actually moving forward the fight to clear me and my family's name. You have to understand, [it's been] five years of harassment, five years of bullying," Johnson said.

Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement he was "deeply disappointed" to learn about the charges.

"I have known these individuals to be passionate and hardworking people, which is why I find these allegations so upsetting," Kenney said. "With regards to Councilmember Johnson, it is extremely important that elected officials diligently guard the public's trust and not leave the public with a sense that they are working for private gain. Whatever the Councilmember decides to do next regarding his Council position, I hope he considers the impact these proceedings have on his ability to serve the residents of the Second Councilmanic District who elected him to office."

Johnson and Chavous are expected to make their first appearance at the federal courthouse on Friday for arraignment.

If convicted, Johnson and his wife face a maximum of 40 years behind bars.

CBS3's Joe Holden contributed to this report.

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