Ex-ABC official faces ethics charges

The Louisiana Board of Ethics made public Wednesday conflict of interest charges against former parish Alcoholic Beverage Control Board member Ralph Johnson.

Johnson resigned from the ABC Board in October 2011 after he was arrested on counts of bribery and extortion by the state office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control. Johnson allegedly accepted a $1,500 check and the promise of additional monthly fees from a business applying for a liquor permit.

The Ethics Board counts relate to the same incident involving Donmoor Food Market, 1079 N. Donmoor Ave, seeking a Class B Beer and Liquor license. The request was opposed by the Melrose East Community Association, called MECA, for which Johnson served as vice president and executive director. According to the ethics allegations, Johnson received monthly compensation from MECA.

The Ethics Board said Johnson ran afoul of state conflict of interest laws by participating in a transaction with an organization — MECA — in which he had a substantial economic interest, under the jurisdiction of his government agency — the ABC Board for East Baton Rouge.

Johnson’s attorney in the criminal case, Chris Alexander, of Baton Rouge, said the bribery and extortion charges have been turned over to the District Attorney’s Office. “Mr. Johnson is not guilty of any crime,” Alexander said. “I’m very confident there’s no criminal case there.”

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar C. Moore III said Wednesday that Steve Danielson, the assistant district attorney handling the criminal case, is trying to get a date to present the case to a grand jury.

Alexander said he hasn’t seen the ethics charges against Johnson. The Ethics Board posted the charges on its website. The charges have been sent to the Ethics Adjudicatory Board for hearing.Johnson recused himself at the July 14, 2011, hearing on the license, and action was deferred to a later meeting because of the MECA opposition.

The Ethics Board said sometime after that meeting and before the ABC Board ruled, the owner of the Donmoor Food Market entered into a financial agreement with MECA. Under the agreement, MECA would withdraw its opposition in exchange for a $1,500 membership fee in the organization and a $150 a month contribution to the association.

“On October 13, 2011, the Donmoor Food Market’s application for a permanent business license was deferred on a motion by Ralph Johnson,” who sought a two-week delay, the board said. “Mr. Johnson stated that MECA must ratify the agreement on next Monday and then he would drop the opposition to granting the Donmoor Food Market the Class B liquor license.”

On Nov. 17, 2011, the license was granted.