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Department of Health official charged with taking bribe

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An alleged $500 bribe has exposed a Florida Department of Health official to up to 20 years in federal prison.

Federal prosecutors in South Florida last week charged Anthony Johnson, an environmental supervisor based in Fort Lauderdale, in a corruption case involving sewer and water permits.

Court records show two builders putting up a home in Southwest Ranches, a rural but affluent area of Broward County, had planned to install a septic system.

They went to Johnson last June, who told them he would expedite the permits, “but you have to give me some money,” the charging document said. He asked for $500 in addition to permitting fees.

“The Florida Department of Health was responsible for the permitting and inspection for all on-site sewage treatment and disposal systems, commonly referred to as septic tank systems,” according to the document.

The money changed hands in an elevator at the Department of Health’s office, it added, during “which defendant Johnson placed (it) in his pocket.”

He now faces a maximum of 20 years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine for one count of “extortion under color of official right.” His sentencing guidelines, which suggest a likely punishment, weren’t yet available.

Johnson was released on $100,000 bail, records show. His first scheduled court appearance has not been docketed.

The Department of Health did not respond to a request for comment.

Johnson’s attorney, Michael D. Orenstein, said he already submitted a not-guilty plea on behalf of his client.

“It’s a very unfortunate case,” he said. “Mr. Johnson is a decent man, and he has the love and support of his family and community.”

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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