Tragic moments in political bribery

A Maryland politician tries the old "cash in the brassiere" trick. Don't they ever learn?

Published November 16, 2010 6:20PM (EST)

Upon learning last week that federal agents were at his door, Jack Johnson, the Prince Georges County (Md.) executive, allegedly gave his wife some odd instructions: "Put it in your bra and walk out or something." The "it" was $79,600 of cold, corrupt cash, which the FBI says it ultimately recovered from Mrs. Johnson's underwear. (It's also not counting a $100,000 check that authorities suspect Johnson's wife flushed down the toilet.)

Johnson, interestingly, is not the first politician to see undergarments as a means of hiding his crimes. His case is a reminder of some of the comical complications that can result when politicians take bribes.

Bill Jefferson's freezer: William Jefferson, a nine-term congressman from Louisiana, became a laughingstock when it was revealed he had stuffed $90,000 into his freezer in a feeble attempt to hide the money from authorities. Unfortunately, even below-freezing temperatures couldn't scare authorities away. The money was found, and Jefferson became, in the words of his defense attorney, "a national joke."

Paul Powell's boxes and briefcases: Paul Powell, who served as Illinois' secretary of state from 1965 until his death in 1970, famously believed that "there’s only one thing worse than a defeated politician, and that's a broke one." Broke, he wasn’t. In the months after his death, authorities discovered $800,000 of cash stuffed into boxes and briefcases (his annual salary never exceeded $30,000). That's what happens when your secretary of state demands all checks be written to him personally.

Ed DiPrete's dumpster dive: When former Rhode Island Gov. Edward DiPrete was confronted with charges of extortion and racketeering in the 1990s, it seemed like your run-of-the-mill corruption story. Boring! Then details emerged of the then-governor jumping into a back-alley dumpster to retrieve a $10,000 bribe that he had accidentally thrown out. He later admitted to illegally obtaining as much as $250,000, but the cash-in-the-trash episode forever cemented his reputation for fiscal responsibility -- at least when it came to his own cash.

Dianne Wilkerson's bra: Longtime Massachusetts state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, once considered a rising star in state (and maybe national) politics, was videotaped in the fall of 2008 taking a bribe from undercover agents and hiding it inside her brassiere. Over 18 months, Wilkerson took eight bribes, totaling $23,500 -- although that alone didn't meet the $70,000 she was trying to raise for an election recount after losing the September '08 Democratic primary. So maybe she was strapped for cash -- not that that’s an excuse for this very literal cash-strapping.

By Maxwell Strachan

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