Facing Charges, State Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell Says She Will Resign

“I intend to accept responsibility for any wrongdoings that I have done before I took office,” says the longtime community advocate, who served for less than a year. 

Movita Johnson-Harrell

This story has been updated.

After making history earlier this year as the first Muslim woman elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Movita Johnson-Harrell says she will resign from office in the face of criminal charges against her announced on Wednesday morning by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

In a Harrisburg press conference, Shapiro alleged that Johnson-Harrell had stolen more than $500,000 from a nonprofit she founded, Motivations Education and Consultation Associates, and spent the funds on real estate, vacation, luxury items, and her campaign for the 190th District House seat. Shapiro said Johnson-Harrell had agreed to resign her seat and plead guilty to charges including perjury, tampering with public records, theft by unlawful taking, theft by deception and contributions of corporations.

“I am saddened and dismayed by the nature of the allegations brought against me,” Johnson-Harrell told Philadelphia magazine. “I vigorously dispute most of these allegations. I intend to accept responsibility for any wrongdoings that I have done before I took office. I have always fought for the people of West Philadelphia to the best of my ability.”

“Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell remains a woman dedicated to ending gun violence in Philadelphia and focused on the well-being of all Philadelphians,” said Jessica Natali, Johnson-Harrell’s attorney, in a statement. “We are in the early stage of this case and will not address its merits in the media. This matter will be resolved with the attorney general’s office and ultimate disposition will be addressed in a court room at an appropriate time.”

Johnson-Harrell will have served her district for less than a year after winning a special election in March following the resignation of her predecessor, Vanessa Lowery Brown, who has been convicted of bribery and other criminal charges.

Before replacing Brown, Johnson-Harrell had served as the interim supervisor of Victim Services for Philadelphia’s District Attorney’s Office. Her advocacy around issues pertaining to gun violence, spurred by the shooting death of her son, garnered statewide attention. She created the CHARLES Foundation, a nonprofit founded in her son’s name, in 2013 to empower communities and push for more gun violence prevention.

But now, Johnson-Harrell is stepping down to “do what is best for the people that live my the district.”

“I have been proud to represent the 190th District,” Johnson-Harrell told Philadelphia magazine. “I cannot become a distraction for my friends and neighbors who need so much. I thus will be stepping aside as representative later this month.”

The special election that Johnson-Harrell won met with early controversy when the first two Democratic nominees for the seat had to bow out after questions emerged surrounding their residency in West Philadelphia. These errors paved the way for Johnson-Harrell to be the third nominee, which eventually led her to a landslide victory against two other challengers.

In a previous interview with Philadelphia magazine, Johnson-Harrell expressed how having an elected seat for her was not about “need[ing] a job.”

“Many people enter politics looking for a career, money, power, fame — I’ll be personally taking a $20,000 pay cut if I become the next state representative,” Johnson-Harrell said at the time. “My motivation for doing this work is that I want to see our boys stop dying. People should also know that my work ethic cannot be matched. And lastly, while I am the third choice, I am grateful that the Democratic party has put their trust in me. I think I can get a lot done in Harrisburg.”

Johnson-Harrell did not give an indication of her next steps after the charges are announced, but noted that her legal representation will defend her “to the fullest extent of the law.”