CRESTVIEW — The Brotherhood of Love's founder says he will plead not guilty Feb. 16, when he faces a judge on a charge of second-degree dealing in stolen property, a felony.
Gary Johnson, 61, of Crestview, is accused of signing a stolen vehicle's title and bill of sale as a witness, according to an Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office arrest report.
Christopher Broxson, 50, took his mother's vehicle and its title from her Dad's Road residence in Milligan on Aug. 17, 2015, and he and Walter Moore, 55, discussed the vehicle and its origin in Johnson's presence, according to the OCSO arrest report.
"The victim (had) been deemed unable to make decisions for herself, and her legal power of attorney ... did not authorize permission of the sale," the report states.
The OCSO's Drug Task Force recovered the vehicle at Johnson's residence, and Johnson admitted to knowing it was stolen, according to the report.
Broxson was arrested Oct. 5, 2015 and charged with grand theft of a motor vehicle; fraud using a false instrument; exploitation of the elderly, less than $20,000; and dealing in stolen property.
Moore was arrested on Oct. 13, 2015 and charged with dealing in stolen property.
Deputies served Johnson's arrest warrant on Jan. 11.
However, there's more to the story, according to Johnson.
It started with a man whom he offered room and board to, and a girlfriend's accusation that the man had guns in his bedroom, Johnson said.
"I told my wife, I say, 'I'm fixing to call the police.' I said because whatever's in that room, I want them to find it and take it out of here," Johnson said.
"Now, watch this, if I was guilty of knowing that the car was stolen, why would I call the sheriff's department myself to come and search the room — and I gave them permission to search my whole house ..."
After deputies got a search warrant, Johnson said, "They came and searched the house. While we were out there on the porch talking, the deputies said, 'Is that your car? ... I know this car from somewhere.'
"The deputy ran the tag number on it and he say, 'This car is stolen' ... He said, 'Oh man, this car's been sold five or six times for crack cocaine."
That was news to Johnson, he said, adding a female deputy visited the house a few days later and asked him about the car, so he showed her the papers.
"She said, 'You signed your name to this? Did you know the car was stolen?'" Johnson said. "And what I was trying to tell her, I knew the car was stolen after the deputies ran the tag number and found out it was stolen. That's when I knew it was stolen."
"Soon as I said that, she left out the door. Did this lady think I was saying I knew the car was stolen and signed my name? ... During the time I signed my name, I didn't know then. I didn't know the car was stolen until Okaloosa County (sheriff's deputies) came here and they ran the tag number on the car."
Johnson said he had an operation and was on bed rest shortly before the arrest. He was in pain, but he is a law-abiding citizen and went willingly, he said.
"I'm not working against the law, I'm working with the law," he said. "I got up out of bed, even with all the pain and agony I was in."
"Can you imagine what I went through, with 150 staples in my back?" a tearful Johnson said, as his voice cracked. "And then, when I went to court the next morning ... the judge, he told my charges.
Johnson recalled the conversation this way:
"... He said, 'Right now, your bond is at 4,000.'"
"'Sir, I don't have any money ...'"
"'He said, 'How about $2,000?'"
"'I can tell you: I do a lot of stuff in this community.'"
"He said, 'You're the Mr. Johnson that feeds the people and helps them?'"
The judge — whose name Johnson couldn't recall — said, "Sir, I take my hat off to you for what you're doing for the community," Johnson said.
At that point, Johnson — who is spending time at home since his arrest — said he was released at no monetary charge, based on his reputation.
Clerk of court records confirm that a signature bond was posted on Jan. 14.
The Brotherhood of Love, a not-for-profit group of Crestview residents, annually provides community Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, and a December toy giveaway.
Johnson's outreach ministry flourished for years when he lived in the Miami and Thomasville, Ga., areas. He resurrected the organization in November 2014, when he and a number of volunteers prepared free Thanksgiving meals for needy residents.
The goal was to feed 250 people, but more than 400 people received meals after word about the benefit spread in the News Bulletin and the Northwest Florida Daily News.
The organization reported feeding more than 500 people during its 2015 Thanksgiving feast.
Johnson cried throughout the conversation about this case, and said a number of county and city officials have come forward expressing their support for him during this time.
It all comes down to five words, Johnson said.
"I'm innocent until proven guilty," he said.