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Michigan lawmaker charged with paying ghost employee

DETROIT (AP) — A Michigan lawmaker was charged Tuesday with putting a no-show employee on his office payroll to repay her for $14,000 in personal loans.

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

Johnson listed the employee as a “community liaison,” but she was actually a ghost employee who had lent money to the lawmaker, according to the indictment. The grand jury said the person was paid $23,000 for no work over nine months.

Johnson’s lawyer denied any 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.

Dates listed in the indictment match state payroll records, which show she was a Johnson employee in the Senate for much of 2014.

In a separate case, Thornton is awaiting her sentence for paying bribes to a Detroit school principal in exchange for tutoring work. A phone message and email seeking comment weren’t immediately returned by her attorney.

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. Three resigned from the Legislature and one was expelled.

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AP reporter David Eggert contributed to this story.

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Follow Ed White at http://twitter.com/edwhiteap

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