Those who approached Baltimore County police officer William R. Johnson, a qualified handgun instructor in Maryland, for permission to own and operate the firearms didn’t have to complete the hours of training required by state law for others to be certified, federal prosecutors alleged in an indictment made public Thursday.
For anywhere from $100 to $200 cash, Johnson would sign off on their paperwork, affirming the applicant completed hours of training in his presence that they hadn’t, according to the indictment. Prosecutors say Johnson’s scheme continued for over two years, from May 2019 through this September, depriving people of an “honest service.”
The indictment outlined some of the messages federal prosecutors obtained between Johnson and clients, communications that showed those who reached out were often surprised to learn they’d be able to skip the courses and asked if their spouses, friends or family could reach out to him, too.
Johnson joked about his workaround and scoffed at the state-mandated requirements, according to the exchanges in the indictment.
Johnson, 32, called in Thursday for his initial appearance in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore, a virtual hearing where Magistrate Judge Thomas DiGirolamo explained the charges against him and the penalties for each offense. The indictment charges Johnson with six counts of honest services wire fraud; each count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, plus a period of supervised release and a fine.
Prosecutors and Johnson’s defense attorneys told DiGirolamo they agreed Johnson should be released so long as he forfeited all of the firearms in his possession and avoided contact with approximately 139 people identified by prosecutors. DiGirolamo signed off on his release under those conditions.
During the hearing, Johnson’s attorney Andrew Alperstein said Johnson intended to divest himself of his eight firearms with time to spare before the 48-hour deadline.
After court, Alperstein and Joseph Pappafotis, his co-counsel, touted Johnson’s career in the police department and said he looked forward to resolving the case.
“Mr. Johnson has enjoyed a long career of public service and giving back to his community while serving as a police officer and a detective,” they said after the hearing. “It’s unfortunate that he’s in the situation that he’s in and he looks forward to dealing with it in a responsible manner.”
Johnson, a Baltimore resident, joined the Baltimore County force in 2008 and became a narcotics detective in 2014, according to a Tuesday news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Maryland.
Baltimore County police spokeswoman Joy Stewart said Johnson is suspended without pay. Prior to the indictment, he had been suspended with pay.
In 2019, Johnson obtained a qualified handgun instructor certificate from Maryland State Police, which authorized him to instruct students on using firearms, prosecutors said. Those who purchase, rent or receive a handgun in the state must have a handgun qualification license, and a wear-and-carry permit must also be acquired to use them legally.
Hours of training are required to obtain the licenses — at least four for handgun qualification licenses, and 16 for initial wear-and-carry permit applications, plus an additional eight upon renewal applications for those permits. Wear-and-carry permit applicants must also complete a Maryland State Police firearms training course within two years of submitting a new or renewal application.
Johnson accepted payments for licenses and permits via interstate electronic transfer funds services, such as Venmo, CashApp and Zelle, in exchange for him falsely certifying that they had completed the required training, according to federal prosecutors. He allegedly charged about $100 for handgun qualification licenses and $150 to $200 for wear-and-carry permits, prosecutors said.
After receiving payment, Johnson told applicants they would not need to attend the required classes and sent them score sheets falsely certifying the completion of the training, according to prosecutors. Applicants then used those forms to apply for their licenses and permits. Johnson received six payments from five people for licenses, permits or both, according to the release.
In the two years since earning his qualified handgun instructor certificate, Johnson certified at least 100 applicants for handgun licenses and at least 45 for wear-and-carry permits, prosecutors said.
A person identified in the indictment only by the initials B.C., approached Johnson in January about obtaining a wear and carry permit, according to the indictment. B.C. told Johnson on Facebook messenger that he’d signed up for a class and inquired about Johnson’s services. Prosecutors detailed the telling dialogue that followed.
“Do I still need to take the class? Lol,” B.C. wrote.
“F--- that course lol,” Johnson responded. “Yeah I charge $150 and sign it off for you snd [sic] then you get printed and apply. Let me know. Better than sitting through 16 hours.”
“Jesus that’s so much easier. Can my wife get her hql that way as well?” B.C. asked.
“Yeah I do $100 for HQL and $150 for CCW,” Johnson responded, according to the indictment. “That gets her the certificate of training and you the shooting sheet and training sign off.”
Qualified handgun instructors “whose courses fail to meet minimum standards and who improperly certify applicants” will lose their certification, according to the state police website.