I really hate to see it.
They are a young, black power couple doing their thing — Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson in the corridors of City Hall and his wife, Dawn Chavous, in the field of educational consulting. Married in 2011, they have two young sons, ages 3 and 5. They have a home in Point Breeze. For a while, it looked as if they were living the proverbial dream — that is, before federal authorities began circling and asking a whole lot of questions.
Then, on Wednesday, what they had feared happened. Chavous, 40, and Johnson, 46, were each named in a two-count indictment alleging bribery. If convicted, each could face decades in prison and large fines. The couple are scheduled to turn themselves in to federal authorities on Friday.
It will be a sobering moment.
But not a completely unexpected one. They had heard an indictment might be coming.
I met with Chavous on Tuesday afternoon, the day before the 43-page indictment was announced. Outwardly, she was calm, but I could tell that her emotions were understandably roiling.
“This is never a situation I ever imagined I would be in,” she told me as attorney Barry Gross listened. “I’m trying to stay composed because I have so many other things on my plate. I mean, I still have a company to run. I still have work to do. I still have two children to take care of. I still have a household to run. I still have obligations with my church.
“So, I’m just trying to stay composed, because it doesn’t help anyway for me to be crazy," she added. "Even if I’m feeling very frustrated. It’s very devastating to have your entire career questioned and to [have it asserted] that my work is the result of my husband. It’s very devastating.
“I know that I haven’t done anything wrong," Chavous said. “I have never had any issues with the law. I’m a law-abiding citizen."
Prosecutors see it differently. They allege that Johnson received payments in excess of $66,000 in exchange for reportedly using his position to benefit Universal Companies’ Universal Community Homes operation by introducing a beneficial zoning variance for the Royal Theater without disclosing his wife’s dealings with the company. The feds accuse Johnson of funneling “bribe payments” through his wife’s Chavous Consulting.
According to the indictment, “Dawn Chavous provided Universal Companies with very little work, generated minimal work product, and incurred minimal, if any, expenses on behalf of Universal Companies in return for the $66,750 in consulting fees her consulting firm received from" Universal Community Homes.
Abdur Rahim Islam, 62, Universal Community Homes’ former executive officer and board president, and Shahied Dawan, 68, Universal’s former chief financial officer and secretary, also were named in the indictment.
“What we have here is four people pretending their motives were purely civic-minded, when in fact they were unlawfully conspiring to enrich themselves,” said Christian D. Zajac, an FBI assistant special agent.
During our interviews, Chavous declined to answer questions about her involvement with Universal. I wanted to know her dates of employment; what she had been hired to do; who her contacts were; and how the job had originated. Instead, she stuck to her position that she did not receive “any financial benefit as a result of my marriage.”
“I am an independent person," Chavous said.
I asked if she and Johnson had discussed boundaries as it pertained to her consulting work and his government job.
“I think it was a given," she told me. “I had already had experience working in the political realm because I grew up around it. My parents were both politically active. And I had worked for a state senator for such a long period of time. There are certain things that you know that you are just not going to do. I’m vegan. He’s a vegetarian. Nobody’s bringing meat in the house.”
In other words, that they understood the rules.