A former employee of Conway attorney Irby Walker, who was disbarred after admitting he tried to hire someone to kill another attorney, was ordered Monday to pay $35,000 in restitution to Walker and serve five years on probation for stealing money from him.
Jessamine “Jessie” B. Johnson, 48, pleaded guilty to breach of trust with fraudulent intent with a value of $5,000 or more in exchange for a criminal conspiracy charge to be dismissed and charges against her husband, Glenn Johnson, to be dismissed.
“She took some money out of his trust account,” said Morgan Martin, who represented Johnson during the plea on Monday. “I think until this happened she was a wonderful employee.”
Martin said that Johnson had repaid $280,000 to Walker’s trust account.
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“We believe she made full restitution. There is some argument that there was more money,” Martin said.
Walker said he believed more than $300,000 was missing from his firm’s trust accounts.
Circuit Court Judge Paul Burch ordered Johnson to serve 10 years in prison, which is the maximum sentence for the charge, but he suspended that sentence upon her service of five years on probation and pay the restitution. Johnson’s probation can be discontinued after two years if she has paid the restitution.
“For me to sit up here and order an amount that can’t be met is a prescription for disaster,” Burch said, noting that Walker had said more money was missing than what had been returned.
In August 2010, Walker pleaded guilty to solicitation to commit a felony of murder and was given a 10-year prison sentence that was suspended after he served three years in prison and five years on probation.
On Monday, Walker told Burch he had some mental health issue and struggled with some medication he was given when he tried to hire someone to kill another attorney.
“At the time Mrs. Johnson took that money from me, I was struggling,” Walker said. “In some sense Mrs. Johnson contributed to my demise. . . . I loved what I did. I loved practicing law.”
After Burch sentenced Johnson and as he was leaving the courtroom Monday, Walker walked over and shook hands with Johnson and her husband and wished her well.
“Mrs. Johnson worked for me for a number of years. I trusted her. I treated her like family,” Walker said and noted he learned Johnson had stolen some money from him before this incident and she paid that back. “At the time Mrs. Johnson took the money, she obviously didn’t care what happened to me. She obviously didn’t care for the people whose mortgages didn’t get paid off.”
Johnson and her husband were charged in May 2009 after police determined $400,000 was missing from Walker’s firm from January 2006 through May 2009.
Walker was charged after Doug Thornton told police on Sept. 11, 2010 that Walker had made threats against his life and believed he was trying to follow through on those threats.
During an investigation, Horry County police said they learned that Walker tried to hire someone to kill Thornton. The men have known each other since 1982, and Thornton said he shared an office with Walker until 2006, before relocating his practice.
Between Sept. 11 and Sept. 17, 2010, police recorded conversations Walker had with another person, who has not been named, about how much he would be willing to pay to have Thornton killed, according to an arrest warrant.