When asked how she’s holding up, Carmen Johnson responds assuredly, “Paying attention to the details in the journey.”
The former head of the Prince George’s County NAACP branch’s housing committee’s “journey” took on a new meaning this past February when she was convicted on charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and making a false statement on a loan application, arising from two residential mortgage fraud schemes.
“When people are in a situation like mine, they turn into sleep walkers because you are told when to eat, when to go to bed … when to do this, when to do that.” Determined to keep her head high, Johnson, 48, is just a few months into serving a 57-month sentence in a federal prison which will be followed by five years of supervised release.
And she was ordered to pay $2.3 million in restitution to financial lending institutions for their losses on 10 foreclosed properties.
“Eventually my story will be told and I can’t miss one detail of this whole journey,” Johnson says hopeful that she will be released soon and will return home to her family.
Johnson claims her innocence because as she puts it, “Personally, I never did mortgages a day in my life. I am an activist. I was helping people with foreclosures.” The owner of CJ Lending and its predecessor Able Estate & Company, which provided credit repair services, is adamant she did nothing wrong.
Witnesses testified that in both schemes Johnson reported to credit bureaus and provided her fellow co-conspirators with false credit histories showing backdated lines of credit that were used to convince lenders to give mortgage loans.
Why did her co-defendants plead guilty? “I don’t know any of them. I know two are realtors at high-end real estate agencies. The only reason I can say they plead guilty is because they were absolutely guilty.”
Johnson persists she’s innocent of the charges. Read what else she has to say.
What do you want your constituents to know about your case?
Innocent people can go to jail.
Legally, you’ve never done a mortgage but you have been charged with fraud?
Exactly. [I was charged] with 24 counts.
Why weren’t you able to prove your innocence?
I had fired three high-profile attorneys. By the time I got to trial, I was heavily sedated on Klonopin, which is a medication the psychiatrist prescribed for me. I was ordered to go through therapy once a week. I did that for almost 18 months or so. I couldn’t even function.
[An anti-anxiety drug, Klonopin has harmful side effects which includes addiction, withdrawal, hallucination, delusional thinking, irritability, depression and suicidal thinking. Rock star Stevie Nicks is the poster child for the dangers of Klonopin addiction. "The only thing I’d change [in my life] is walking into the office of that psychiatrist who prescribed me Klonopin. That ruined my life for eight years,” she told FOX news. She also told US Weekly, “[K[Klonopin]urned me into a zombie.”]
Why were you “ordered” to go through therapy?
I am not sure. I don’t know if that’s part of the process. I know that I needed it, but I should have gone to my own therapist instead of a court appointed-therapist. I hear that a person should be on Klonopin 30 to 60 days. I was on it for almost two years.
Did you have any related therapy prior to the court order?
Yes. Most people need therapy or someone to talk to. Not once a week, like they ordered me to do or not being placed on some type of meds.
How are you adjusting to your residency at Alderson Federal Prison Camp?
It’s a no security campground. It’s where Martha Stewart was. I have not unpacked emotionally and mentally. I know that I am going to get out of here. There is no way that God is going to allow me to do four years and some months for something I didn’t do. As far as the adjustment aspect, meeting different women with PhDs, judges and a couple of prosecutors in here and lots of attorneys – there are a lot of professional women here. Just meeting with them and hearing their stories it just really breaks my heart. I wish God had a better plan for me, a more comfortable plan, where I was hearing these women’s stories outside of prison.
He wanted me to be in prison. Just listening to their stories, them ministering to me and healing me – making sure I am OK to complete this journey. The women have been good and sympathetic for whatever reason. As far adjusting to the rules, I am the perfect inmate. However, I refuse to sleep walk.
When you say that you are aware of every step and that God has a plan for you, do you really believe that you will get out early?
Yes. I do.
In regards to your psychiatric care, I am trying to connect the dots. Did you have an outburst?
No. A lot of people go through that. I wasn’t aware of the [p[processes of the]ourt system. A lot of women here have told them they went through the same thing. When you go through what I have been through, you’re terrified, afraid. You can’t think. Especially if you are innocent, you don’t know what is going to come next. You don’t trust anyone especially as a professional and you have an attorney. It does something to your psyche to know that people have your life in their hands. I had anxiety and felt I was going to have a heart attack. No one knew what I was going through because I continued with my activist work. I was the housing chair of the State of Maryland NAACP and an executive for them. People came to me to save them from foreclosure. Being on the therapy once a week started off being a good thing because of all the anxiety I was experiencing.
The story behind the story: How Johnson’s nightmare started…
in the first scheme, which operated from March 2007 to November 2008, Johnson was accused of conspiring with real estate agent Edgar Tibakweitira (a.k.a “Edgar Julian,” “Charles Edgar Tibakweitira,” and “Edgar Gaudious Tibakweitira,”), 46, and others, to fraudulently obtain residential mortgage loans by making false statements during the loan application and approval process. In the second scheme, witnesses testified that between April and July 2008 Johnson conspired with real estate agent Nsane Phanuel Ligate, 42, and others in a similar mortgage fraud scheme involving two properties in Baltimore.
A resident of Severn, Maryland, Tibakweitira’s co-conspirators were Flavia Makundi, 42, of Severn Park, Maryland, Ayoub Luziga, 35, of Bowie, Maryland, Raymond Abraham, 48, of Silver Spring, Maryland, Mokorya Cosmas Wambura, age 42, of Takoma Park, Maryland, Abdallah Suleiman Kitwara, 44, of Bowie, Maryland, have pleaded guilty to their roles in the first scheme. Luziga was sentenced to 21 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution of $999,726. Kitwara was sentenced to 15 months in prison and ordered to pay $290,954 in restitution. Abraham was sentenced to 33 months in prison and ordered to pay $999,726 in restitution. Annika Boas, 37, of Mount Rainier, Maryland, was convicted after trial and sentenced to 27 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution of $511,147. Makundi was sentenced to time served.
The U.S. Department of Justice says Tibakweitira “used his position of as a real estate agent to build a group of co-conspirators who obtained mortgages for properties at values well above the properties’ actual market value and pocketed the excess funds.” He was sentenced to 57 months in prison and ordered to repay $2,482,856.05 in restitution.
In Johnson’s “second scheme,” her co-conspirator, Ligate, a resident of Ashburn, Virginia, was sentenced to five months in prison, followed by five months of home detention as part of three years of supervised release for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, in connection with a separate, but related mortgage fraud scheme. Ligate was also ordered to pay restitution of $352,091.82.
In comparison to those involved in the first scheme, Ligate’s co-conspirators also received much lighter punishment. Cane Mwihava, 43, of Bowie, Maryland, Larry Johnson, 58, of Capital Heights, and Gladyness Silaa, 36, of Bowie, Maryland plead guilty to their roles in the second mortgage fraud scheme. Johnson was sentenced to eight months in prison consecutive to the current sentence he is serving on an unrelated case and ordered to pay restitution of $352,091. Silaa was sentenced six months home detention and ordered to pay $378,602 in restitution. Mwihava was sentenced to six months home detention and ordered to pay $352,091 in restitution.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office contends defendants used stolen or false identities, false documents – including W-2 forms, earnings statements, and bank statements – and false credit information to induce lenders to provide residential mortgage loans to the straw buyers.
Through her company CJ Lending, the Gambrills, Maryland resident, was accused of creating fictitious lines of credit for the straw buyers to fraudulently enhance their credit worthiness. Large amounts of the proceeds of the fraudulently obtained loans were disbursed from escrow accounts to Destiny Property Management, LLC and Destiny Property Management Company, which were shell companies owned by Tibakweitira, for repairs and renovations that were never made to the properties. These funds were paid to the defendants. The defendants did not make or stopped making the mortgage payments and allowed the properties, including 10 properties located in Severna Park, Baltimore, Hyattsville and Silver Spring, to go into foreclosure.
As a result of the conspiracy, lenders provided over $3.5 million for fraudulently obtained loans, which resulted in losses of almost $2,309,646 to the lenders, the Federal Housing Administration which insured some of the loans, and the Federal National Mortgage Corporation (“Fannie Mae”) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (“Freddie Mac”), who purchased some of the loans in the secondary mortgage market.