What Did Ex-Speaker Rick Johnson Do? Why Is He in Prison?

In a shocking turn of events, former Michigan House Speaker Rick Johnson has been sentenced to 55 months in federal prison, marking a dramatic fall from grace for the politician who once held a prominent position in the state’s politics. Johnson’s descent into criminality came to light as he pleaded guilty to accepting substantial bribes for medical marijuana licenses. This article delves into the details of his misdeeds, the sentencing, and the implications of his actions.

The Bribery Scheme Unveiled

Rick Johnson, at the age of 70, found himself in the crosshairs of justice as he faced sentencing by U.S. District Judge Jane Beckering. His guilty plea earlier in the year had exposed a troubling web of corruption that had entangled him during his role as the chair of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Licensing Board from 2017 to 2019.

Federal court records revealed that Johnson received not only cold hard cash, to the tune of at least $110,200, but also enjoyed the perks of private flights, tickets to sporting events, and other undisclosed privileges as part of the bribes he accepted. Prosecutors went further to assert that Johnson was even provided with “thousands of dollars worth of commercial sex” as a bribe, a shocking revelation that added to the gravity of his crimes. The expenses for this illicit arrangement were allegedly covered by a lobbyist who also faced charges in the case.

The Sentencing and Prosecutor’s Perspective

During the sentencing hearing, Judge Beckering took into account Johnson’s lack of a criminal history. However, she expressed her dismay at the nature of the corruption scheme, which she termed as “an unfettered abuse of power.” She didn’t mince words when addressing Johnson, stating, “You did (this) all to pad your pockets, feast on free meals, and satisfy your sexual desires.”

Interestingly, prosecutors had initially sought a longer sentence of 71 months, highlighting the gravity of Johnson’s actions. U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, Mark Totten, reiterated the seriousness of the corruption scheme, emphasizing that Johnson’s sentence was appropriate given the circumstances. “Today’s sentence sends a very strong message that public corruption will not be tolerated in the state of Michigan,” Totten asserted.

Unfulfilled Cooperation Expectations

The former head of a Michigan marijuana licensing board Rick Johnson, left, walks with his attorney 
Nick Dondzila, outside federal court, Tuesday, April 25, 2023, in Grand Rapids
The former head of a Michigan marijuana licensing board Rick Johnson, left, walks with his attorney
Nick Dondzila, outside federal court, Tuesday, April 25, 2023, in Grand Rapids
(AP Photo/Joey Cappelletti)

In a surprising twist, it was revealed that prosecutors did not file for a “5K” motion, which typically seeks to reduce sentencing guidelines for a defendant who cooperates with the government. While Johnson had agreed to plead guilty with the understanding that cooperation might be considered, this motion was never made. This stands in contrast to one of Johnson’s co-defendants, John Dalaly, an Oakland County businessman who received a 28-month prison sentence. In his case, prosecutors did issue a 5K motion due to Dalaly’s cooperation with the authorities.

Prosecutors made their stance clear in sentencing briefs, arguing that a custodial sentence below the advisory guidelines range would fail to account for the damage Johnson and his co-conspirators had inflicted on public trust and government processes. They emphasized the need for a strong message against public corruption.

Ongoing Investigation

While Johnson’s sentencing has brought one chapter of the corruption scandal to a close, U.S. Attorney Mark Totten hinted that the investigation remained ongoing. However, this did not guarantee additional charges. Totten clarified, “When we say an investigation is ongoing, that’s not a promise for future charges. But it does mean that we’ve not laid this matter to rest. We’re still looking at it. We still may receive future evidence.”

Comparative Sentencing

Johnson’s 55-month sentence is notably harsher than the average sentence for federal bribery crimes. A report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission in 2022 indicated that the average sentence for bribery offenders was 23 months in prison, putting Johnson’s punishment well above the norm.

A Closer Look at the Corruption Scheme

To fully grasp the extent of Johnson’s wrongdoing, it’s essential to examine the mechanics of the corruption scheme that ensnared him. Johnson, who had served as Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives between 2001 and 2004, was appointed as the chair of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Licensing Board in May 2017. Prior to this appointment, Johnson had worked as a lobbyist in Lansing, Michigan, a fact that raised eyebrows and fueled concerns about potential conflicts of interest.

During his tenure as the chair of the board, Johnson’s actions came under scrutiny. Federal investigators painstakingly pieced together a narrative that revealed the lengths to which he was willing to go for personal gain. Johnson received bribes in various forms, including cash payments and luxurious private flights to Canada, all courtesy of individuals with vested interests in obtaining medical marijuana licenses. This cozy relationship between Johnson and those seeking licenses granted them an unfair advantage in the highly competitive industry.

Additionally, Johnson’s unethical behavior extended to facilitating commercial sex services paid for by others. This disturbing revelation not only tarnished his reputation but further underscored the depths of corruption that had infested his role in state government.

Impact on Public Trust

One of the most significant repercussions of Johnson’s actions was the erosion of public trust in elected officials and government processes. As a public servant, he had a duty to uphold the law and serve the best interests of the people of Michigan. Instead, his actions served as a stark reminder of the potential for corruption in positions of power.

Prosecutors argued that a lenient sentence would fail to account for the harm inflicted by Johnson and his co-conspirators. They emphasized the damage done to public confidence and the democratic principles that rely on the rule of law. Johnson’s sentence, they asserted, needed to send a strong message that public corruption would not be tolerated.

What’s Next in the Investigation?

While Johnson’s sentencing has provided some closure to this high-profile case, it is by no means the end of the road for the investigation. U.S. Attorney Mark Totten’s statement that the investigation is ongoing suggests that authorities are continuing to scrutinize the evidence and explore potential avenues for charges against other individuals who may have been involved in the corruption scheme.

However, it’s crucial to note that an ongoing investigation does not guarantee further charges. The authorities will carefully evaluate any new evidence that comes to light and proceed as appropriate.


Rick Johnson’s downfall from a position of political power to a federal prison cell serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of corruption in public office. His acceptance of bribes, which included not only money but also lavish perks and even commercial sex, has cast a shadow over Michigan’s political landscape. As Johnson begins his sentence, the message is clear: public corruption will not be tolerated, and those who betray the trust of their constituents will be held accountable.


Q1: What were the charges against Rick Johnson?

A1: Rick Johnson faced federal felony charges for his involvement in a bribery scheme related to medical marijuana licenses during his tenure as the chair of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Licensing Board.

Q2: What was Rick Johnson’s sentence?

A2: Rick Johnson was sentenced to 55 months in federal prison, along with a $50,000 fine, for his role in the bribery scheme.

Q3: Did Rick Johnson cooperate with the authorities?

A3: Rick Johnson agreed to plead guilty, but prosecutors did not file for a “5K” motion, which would have reduced his sentencing guidelines based on cooperation. Unlike Johnson, one of his co-defendants, John Dalaly, received a reduced sentence due to cooperation.

Q4: Is the investigation into the corruption scheme still ongoing?

A4: Yes, U.S. Attorney Mark Totten stated that the investigation is ongoing, although it does not guarantee additional charges. The authorities continue to review the evidence in the case.

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