Movita

Pennsylvania state Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell.

— Emma Lee/WHYY

Prosecutors charged a state representative from West Philadelphia on Wednesday with enriching herself by stealing money from a nonprofit organization she founded to serve the mentally ill and poor who were fighting addiction.

Elected 10 months ago, Philadelphia’s State Rep. Movita Johnson will plead guilty to embezzlement charges, and give up her seat in the state House of Representatives. Her last day is expected to be Dec. 13, according to a report from Channel 10NBC.

Johnson-Harrell won the special election in the 190th Legislative District, which covers parts of West Philadelphia and North Philadelphia, earlier this year. While reacting to the victory, she stated she was the first Muslim woman elected to the Pennsylvania legislature.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office accused Johnson-Harrell of perjury, tampering with public records, theft and other charges. Shapiro said a plea deal was expected to be worked out.

Court papers said the theft went on for years as Johnson-Harrell converted the charity’s funds into investment properties, vacations and luxury clothing.

Shapiro said Johnson-Harrell personally spent more than $500,000 from Motivations Education & Consultation Associates, diverting Medicaid and Social Security disability funds.

Johnson-Harrell is the first female Muslim member of the House. She turned herself in to police Wednesday in Philadelphia.

Through her lawyers, she released a statement saying she will resign from her $89,000-a-year seat in the House later in December.

“I am saddened and dismayed by the nature of the allegations brought against me today,” she said. “I vigorously dispute many of these allegations, which generally pertain to before I took office and I intend to accept responsibility for any actions that were inappropriate.”

Her attorney, Jessica Natali, said they were “ïn the early stage of this case” and declined to “address its merits in the media.”

At a Harrisburg news conference, Shapiro said Johnson-Harrell engaged in “significant and systematic corruption” involving the payments intended for the people who came to her charity for help.

“Defrauding a nonprofit or defrauding taxpayers and then systematically over many years lying to cover it up is unjust, it’s unfair and it is a crime,” Shapiro said.

Prosecutors said that the nonprofit will be reorganized and that Johnson-Harrell no longer has any control over its finances.

They said the money went to buy designer clothing, multiple fox coats, payments on a Porsche, tuition for a relative and travel to Mexico and Florida. They said she also spent $8,000 on criminal restitution from a 2014 conviction for not paying unemployment taxes.

Johnson-Harrell previously held a $104,000 job with the victim and witness services unit of the Philadelphia district attorney’s office, and is active in an anti-gun violence foundation named for her 18-year-old son, who was shot to death in 2011.

Court papers say the thefts continued even after she worked in the district attorney’s office and started serving in the state House.

On a state statement of financial disclosure form due in May, Johnson-Harrell reported owing the Internal Revenue Service about $50,000.

She told The Associated Press at that time that the debt went back more than a decade, from a business that helped people with special needs. She said an accountant advised her that if she had appealed in time, she would not have owed anything.

Johnson-Harrell quickly made her presence known in the Capitol. After she was sworn in to office, she objected to a colleague’s session-opening prayer that “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow.”

The lawmaker Johnson-Harrell succeeded was also charged while serving. Democrat Vanessa Lowery Brown resigned in December after being sentenced to 23 months of probation for bribery and other offenses.

Johnson-Harrell told Philadelphia Magazine Wednesday morning that she was “saddened and dismayed” by the charges against her, but that she “vigorously disputes most” of them.

“I am saddened and dismayed by the nature of the allegations brought against me,” she said. “I vigorously dispute most of these allegations. I intend to accept responsibility for any wrongdoings that I have done before I took office. I have always fought for the people of West Philadelphia to the best of my ability.”

Information for this report compiled by The Associated Press and Channel 10NBC

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