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Former State Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell ordered to house arrest in her nonprofit theft case

She had been released from jail early because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Former State Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell left the Stout Center for Criminal Justice after pleading guilty to theft charges related to her nonprofit, Motivations Education & Consultation Associates (MECA) in January.
Former State Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell left the Stout Center for Criminal Justice after pleading guilty to theft charges related to her nonprofit, Motivations Education & Consultation Associates (MECA) in January.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

Former Pennsylvania Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell will begin serving the house-arrest portion of her sentence in her nonprofit theft case this month, a Philadelphia judge ordered Wednesday.

Common Pleas Court Judge Scott DiClaudio said during a virtual hearing that when Johnson-Harrell was released early from the Riverside Correctional Facility on April 7 because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Philadelphia probation department was not able to set up her house arrest at that time.

Johnson-Harrell, 54, appearing via Zoom, told the judge that when she went home she had the coronavirus and recovered from it on April 20. In an interview with KYW Newsradio that month, she said she was infected in jail and self-quarantined at home.

In January, Johnson-Harrell, a Democrat who had represented part of West Philadelphia, pleaded guilty to theft and related charges in a case in which the state Attorney General’s Office alleged she stole more than $500,000 from Motivations Education & Consultation Associates (MECA), the nonprofit she had established to help people struggling with mental illness, addiction, and homelessness.

State prosecutors said she spent the funds on family vacations, designer clothing, furs, and personal bills.

Johnson-Harrell did not admit in court to stealing any specific amount of money, but pleaded guilty to three felony charges of stealing from $2,000 to $75,000 in total.

Under a negotiated plea deal, she was sentenced to 11½ to 23 months in jail, with the plan that if she had no misconducts behind bars during her first three months, she would serve the remainder of her minimum sentence, or 8½ months, under house arrest.

She was also sentenced to two years’ probation. As restitution, she was ordered to surrender a Tioga property she owned to MECA.

DiClaudio ordered her to begin her jail sentence Feb. 6. She served two months behind bars before her release.

Under house arrest, as DiClaudio had ordered in January, Johnson-Harrell is allowed to leave home for paid employment, Friday religious services, Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and to take her grandchildren to school in the mornings.

Her attorney, Jessica Natali, on Wednesday told the judge that Johnson-Harrell was requesting permission to leave her home for other reasons, including to accompany her daughter to kidney dialysis appointments for several hours three days a week and for any additional medical appointments.

Johnson-Harrell also requested permission to “engage in unpaid volunteer community work,” Natali said.

Johnson-Harrell told the judge that since her release, she has been volunteering for the Charles Foundation, a nonprofit she created in memory of her son, Charles Andre’ Johnson, who was fatally shot in 2011 at age 18, and by distributing food to 1,000 people for “COVID poverty food relief” on Mondays and Fridays.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Kirsten Heine did not object to the additional requests.

DiClaudio permitted Johnson-Harrell to leave home for the dialysis appointments and to distribute food for coronavirus relief, but declined her request to travel for the Charles Foundation to advocate for gun-violence prevention.

But he warned her not to violate house-arrest rules.

“If you play me, so to speak, or do something you’re not supposed to do, I will not hesitate putting you back in jail. For instance, if I let you out 9 to 2 to distribute food and you’re seen on TV at a rally … that night you’ll be in jail.”

He said that she had about nine months of house arrest to serve before being paroled, but he could release her from house arrest a month early for good behavior.

Johnson-Harrell was the first Muslim woman to serve in the Pennsylvania legislature. Before winning the state House seat, she served as supervisor of the Victim/Witness Services Unit under Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.