By Casey Michel
By Dianna Wray
By Dianna Wray
By Sean Pendergast
By Casey Michel
By Cory Garcia
By Jeff Balke
By Craig Malisow
Several of Johnson's other accusations appear to have some basis in reality, or at least offset those of his chief adversary. He has affidavits from two former Ranly employees who back his assertion that she forged company documents and generally threatened to bring Johnson to his knees. And a court in Mexico ruled that the deal she swung for drug and explosive detection devices in Mexico was borderline enough to dismiss a lawsuit she filed against her Mexican representatives.
Not that Ranly didn't have cause to be miffed with Johnson. He's sued her, filed a claim against her with the Texas Workforce Commission for back wages (though he'd never been an employee), written all kinds of nasty things about her into the permanent record and thrown a wrench into her effort to collect money on the contract in Mexico.
"I wanted the District Attorney to put him in jail," she confesses, bristling at the allegations of criminal activity he spouts at every turn. "It's that kind of stuff, and it's the constant harassment of me personally. It's the thousands that he's cost me, the fact that he mooches off of others and then he screws you."
Since his world went bust in 1993, a host of others have joined the Get Johnson society. Like a New Age support group, they meet at the courthouse, at attorney Tom Fillion's office or around a meal, dishing dirt on their favorite target. And the target gets bigger by the day.
Cheryl Yates, Melinda Honerkamp, Scott Myers and Diane Higgins crowd around a kitchen table and rag on Al Johnson. All four have crossed paths with him; all four have switched from sympathizers to ostracizers. Honerkamp has a place of honor on Johnson's Web site as a co-conspirator. Higgins got legal aid from Johnson in her custody fight until they fell out. Yates is an ex-girlfriend.
Myers had the closest encounter with Johnson. They met in jail in September 1995, when both were doing time as deadbeat dads. Johnson told his story; his cellmate could relate. "He was like a friend of mine," says Myers, his bangs curled around his forehead like a pair of empty parentheses. "I really believed at the time that he was being screwed by the system."
After their release, they took an apartment together. Johnson made Myers a vice-president of Al Johnson International, which had a small office in a stale building downtown on Fannin. The company was still trying to swing deals for weapons and low-income housing in Mexico. Myers saw his chance to carve himself a slice of the American dream. "Al was gonna give that to me: the chance to make real good money, to drive expensive cars, to have unlimited expense accounts, to travel a lot," he says. "I'm a pretty stupid business guy, I guess."
Faxes flew back and forth to Johnson's old Mexican contacts, but no contracts emerged. Nothing came of the plan to build a firing range in Houston and train police officers there, either.
Soon Johnson came up with a new brainchild: a company that would tape video depositions, deliver subpoenas and do other paralegal work. They convinced mutual friend Craig Harrington to invest a drip of startup capital, and Harrington Legal Services began doing business in mid-1997.
Johnson did most of the work, though just how much remains a point of contention, since the financial records (according to Johnson) were stolen. But files from Johnson's computer disks show billings of more than $25,000 over a two-year period. Myers, a carpet layer by trade, kept himself afloat with odd jobs. Harrington bailed after a few months, signing over his interest to Johnson for $10.
While engaged with his business and legal entanglements, Johnson met Cheryl Yates he was doing legal work for the attorney representing Yates in her own bitter divorce. They became friends, then lovers.
"Al is exceptionally suave," Yates says, relating how he used to drive her car down the street from the office to avoid steep parking fees, then walk back. "Just about the time you think chivalry is dead, here comes this guy who's gonna walk 10 blocks to park your car."
In December 1998, Johnson moved in with Yates. Five months later, they had an abrupt split. Johnson says she wanted to marry him, and when he said no, she vowed revenge. Yates says she kicked him out when she became concerned about his drinking and violent temper. They accused each other of assault.
Myers, who had remained at the legal service, severed his ties with Johnson after Yates told him that his partner was a liar and a thief. The two soon found themselves working toward the same end: Myers gave hard copies of Johnson's computer files to Tom Fillion, who represents Johnson's ex-wife. Yates scored a box of files from the office that eventually found its way into the DA's hands.
It didn't take Yates long to gain a measure of revenge. On June 15, Johnson was arrested after the DA's Office was handed an audio tape recorded by Yates in which Johnson seems to be preparing to flee to Costa Rica.