While Chavous was under contract, Universal was still trying to redevelop the historic Royal Theater on South Street, then a crumbling eye sore that had stood vacant for decades. At that time, the company needed to rezone the site in order to move forward with plans to build a mixed-use development. Asking Johnson to introduce zoning legislation, prosecutors said, would be the easiest way to do that — if the Democrat could successfully circumvent the city’s ethics laws by keeping the connection to secret. his wife with Universal.
Universal then sold the Royal for $3.7 million.
During the same period, the city was also pressuring Universal to honor its contract to build housing on a trio of lots it owned with the Philadelphia Housing Authority on the 1300 block of Bainbridge Street – lots with which the two entities had done nothing. for almost a decade at that time. The situation has led the head of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority to threaten reversion, an often lengthy process that would return the land to the city so it could potentially sell it to another developer, according to reports.
But Johnson told executive director Brian Abernathy he would not support the effort — words that effectively ended the possibility of reversion, prosecutors said.
On Tuesday, defense attorneys said that was simply not true – that the redevelopment authority had the legal right to take back the land on Bainbridge whether or not Johnson supported the move.
As for the Royal Theatre, the defense argued that Universal never needed to bribe Johnson into bringing in the zoning legislation. The lawmaker and the nonprofit shared the same goals of providing affordable housing and good schools for city residents, Egan said. Moreover, they were far from being strangers.
“He had given them access and support from the start,” Johnson’s Egan said, adding that bank records show his client and Chavous were never in bad financial shape during the alleged bribery scheme.
Dawan’s lawyer, Thomas Fitzpatrick, argued that Dawan was a ‘pawn’ tasked with helping the government ‘find evidence to support a theory’ that he was part of an elaborate plan to help his employer, Johnson and his wife.
Islam’s lawyer, David Laigaie, said his client and Universal needed Chavous to work for the company, and the organization he ran was never in financial difficulty, denying the claim of the government.
“If we were in financial difficulty in 2013 and had to do something about that distress, literally the last thing we would do would be embark on a plan to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Laigaie said. about the redevelopment of the Royal.
The jury will begin deliberating after receiving instructions on the law from U.S. District Judge Gerald McHugh.