Former Mount Sterling administrator Joe Johnson was sentenced to 10 years in prison for stealing in excess of $700,000 from the village between 2012 and 2016.
Judge Eamon Costello handed down the sentence Monday in Madison County Common Pleas Court.
In January, Johnson pleaded guilty to engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, commonly known as racketeering, theft, theft in office and money laundering. The racketeering conviction is a first-degree felony. All others are third-degree felonies.
In exchange for the guilty pleas, the state dropped 23 additional felony charges and, most notably, agreed to not press charges against Johnson’s wife, Tara, who was present for sentencing with the couple’s two children.
Johnson’s demeanor was noticeably more serious compared to his last court hearing, during which he smiled and cracked jokes. On two separate occasions during sentencing he asked the court to confirm his wife would not be charged. Officials obliged.
He was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $724,239 to the village, as well as more than $43,000 for the cost of an audit by the state. Vehicles, tools and appliances seized from Johnson’s Jackson, Ohio home — and the home itself — were forfeited to the state.
Johnson resigned from the position in January 2016, after four years of service. At the time, Johnson said comments posted on social media had made the job too difficult.
Mount Sterling mayor Charlie Neff and fiscal officer Vickie Sheets resigned the next month. The administration change led to an audit which revealed several village assets were missing or unaccounted for.
Neff’s computer hard drive was wiped clean and several other computers, tablets and cell phones were missing.
During the time period in question, investigators say Johnson transferred more than $190,000 in excess payroll to the personal bank account he shared with his wife.
On the same day Johnson was arraigned, Madison and Fayette counties searched the apartment of previous Mount Sterling employee Madison Newsome.
A 2013 Chevy Cruz, living and dining room furniture, a television, washer and dryer and documents were confiscated from the 22-year-old’s Washington Court House apartment.
A framed picture of Newsome and Johnson was also seized from the home, according to court documents.
Newsome, who Costello described as Johnson’s “girlfriend” in court on Monday, is mentioned in count 16 of Johnson’s original 30 count indictment, which accuses Johnson of theft in office and tampering with records in connection with the purchase of the impounded Chevy Cruz.
Village money covered at least $7,500 of the purchase.
Prior to his sentencing, Johnson told the judge that he pleaded guilty for his family and that he wants to get home to his wife and two children. He also apologized for his joking behavior during the previous hearing.
Defense attorney Mike Murray called Johnson “a hard worker.” He asked for a lesser prison sentence to allow Johnson to work and pay back the money. He also noted a lesser sentence would prevent “undue economic burden” on the local, state and federal government.
Special prosecutor Bob Smith, with the Ohio Auditor’s Office, noted that while Johnson is a first-time offender, he is a multi-offender.
“Instead of a significant surplus, [Mount Sterling] has a significant deficit,” he said, noting the current $400,000 deficit in the village’s general fund.
“You’re never truly satisfied when you have a community that’s so torn apart, but we’ve accomplished what you hope (to accomplish) — to hold someone accountable for their actions,” Smith said following the hearing.
The state auditor’s office released a statement Monday afternoon.
“Joe Johnson used Mt. Sterling’s credit cards like a personal slush fund. The scale of his financial abuse is hard to comprehend, but it’s even more staggering when you consider the financial resources of a village,” Auditor Dave Yost stated. “Today, the people of the village can be relieved that justice has been served.”
Johnson has 30 days to appeal the sentence.
Reach Erin Thompson at 740-852-1616, ext. 1615.