HAMMOND | The owner of a local tree-trimming service pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal charge of paying more than $10,000 in bribes to a Hammond city councilman to receive city work.
David Johnson, 56, of Munster, was indicted in Hammond federal court along with Hammond City Councilman Al Salinas earlier this month. U.S. District Judge Philip Simon accepted Johnson's guilty plea at Thursday's hearing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Bell said Johnson, owner of Munster-based Dave's Tree Service, made 11 payments to Salinas between 2009 and 2011 in amounts ranging from $500 to $1,500 to obtain work in Hammond's 2nd District, which Salinas represents.
Salinas authorized at least $310,000 in contracts to Dave's Tree Service from 2009 to 2011 and is accused of accepting at least $10,500 in bribes from Johnson, according to court records.
Johnson told Judge Simon at the hearing that Salinas approached the tree service, promising Johnson work in the district. When asked by Simon if Salinas was responsible for letting contracts for the work, Johnson answered that Salinas would make recommendations.
Johnson also answered “yes” when Simon asked if he believed that he needed to continue to pay Salinas to get business.
Salinas, 52, pleaded not guilty Oct. 4. He's charged with bribery and four counts of willful failure to file tax returns from 2006 to 2009.
Johnson has signed a plea agreement that stipulates he will cooperate with the U.S. attorney's office, which may require him to testify before a grand jury or at a trial.
In return for cooperation in the investigation or prosecution of another individual, the U.S. attorney's office has agreed to recommend Johnson receive a lower sentence, according to the plea agreement.
Simon emphasized to Johnson that he would need to be completely candid and forthright with the U.S. attorney's office. Simon said he would hold off on ruling on the plea agreement pending a review of a pre-sentence investigation report.
Johnson's attorney, William Padula, declined comment after the hearing.