NEW ORLEANS — A former New Orleans city councilman was sentenced Thursday to six months in prison for plotting to misuse federal money intended to help a nonprofit organization after Hurricane Katrina.
U.S. District Judge Lance Africk also on Thursday sentenced Jon Johnson to six months of home detention after he gets out of prison, fined him $5,000 and ordered him to pay nearly $79,700 in restitution to the federal government.
Johnson, 63, pleaded guilty in July to diverting funds from a nonprofit he controlled to his 2007 campaign for state Senate and to submitting false documents to the Small Business Administration after getting a loan to repair storm damage to his home.
He told Africk that he accepts and regrets his guilt, but asked for leniency because his wife died last year and he has nobody else who can care for their 8-year-old daughter.
“There are still rooms in our house she cannot go into because these are rooms where her mother stayed before she passed,” Johnson said.
Africk said he had received more than 100 letters asking for leniency and knew that Johnson had a long history of public service, and that the nonprofit in question, the Ninth Ward Housing Development Corp., had helped many residents of the Lower 9th Ward.
“This court is not punishing your daughter. The collateral consequences of your conduct are on your shoulders and not the court’s shoulders,” he said.
He told Johnson, who has been free on $25,000 bond, to report to prison by Jan. 8. That will release him at the end of the spring school semester to be with his daughter during the summer, Africk said.
Johnson must serve at least 85 percent of the sentence, said Julian Murray, one of his attorneys.
A court filing outlined more than $140,000 in grant money earmarked for the nonprofit but didn’t specify exactly how much Johnson used.
He was not charged with stealing, defense attorney Jason R. Williams emphasized afterward. Although Johnson admitted using money from a FEMA grant to restore a building owned by the nonprofit, all of the necessary work on that building did get done, Williams said.
Murray said after the hearing that he does not know how the government arrived at a restitution figure of $79,691.
He said Johnson and his wife put far more than that — hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money — into the nonprofit.
In court, Murray told Africk that Johnson has arranged $20,000 in loans as a down payment.
Williams said Johnson has only a few elderly relatives and doesn’t know who will take care of his daughter.
“He’s got the days the judge has given him to work that out,” he said.
Johnson had no comment on the sentence.
“My only concern today is my daughter,” he said.