Former Mount Sterling Clerk pleads guilty


By Maximilian Kwiatkowski - Mkwiatkowski@aimmediamidwest.com



Mount Sterling’s former clerk has accepted a plea deal from the prosecution over theft in office charges.

Bonnie Liff, 58, pleaded guilty to count one of her two theft accusations, specifically for cashing in paid vacation in excess of what she was allotted. It was also changed from a more severe third-degree felony to a fourth-degree felony.

Despite the other charge being dropped, which was over cashing in sick leave in excess, she will pay back the $21,444 she received through both cash-ins. It will be paid back through her pension account, which according to a press release from the Ohio Auditor of State’s office, had been frozen since her indictment.

The prosecution is recommending she be placed on community control for up to five years instead of a prison sentence. The judge can overrule the recommendation and place a prison sentence instead, which could be as high at 18 months with a $5,000 maximum fine.

She will be sentenced on Aug. 17.

“Justice is now three-quarters served for the citizens of Mount Sterling,” Auditor Dave Yost said in a press release. “Once a fourth and final conviction is obtained, the village can put this mess to bed and focus on repairing the damage left in the wake of [former village administrator] Joseph Johnson and his cronies.”

Johnson was sentenced to 10 years in prison in March after he pleaded guilty to stealing more than $700,000 from the village in various ways including early cash-in of benefits and abuse of the village’s credit card.

Liff was indicted in April. Shortly after, she was fired by the village.

At the same time, former Mount Sterling mayor Charlie Neff was charged on two third-degree felony counts of theft in office, a misdemeanor count of falsification and a misdemeanor count of dereliction of duty.

Specifically, he is accused of issuing a check for $16,702 to Johnson for sick leave, much more than what Johnson was entitled to.

Neff is also accused of directing Vicki Sheets, a former fiscal officer, to issue a $38,120 check to Johnson, paying him more than he was authorized to receive for vacation and sick leave payout.

The misdemeanor allegation is for failing to credit 25 percent of village income tax revenue to the village’s capital improvement fund.

After refusing a plea agreement earlier in July, Neff will head to trial on Aug. 15.

Robert Smith, assistant chief legal counsel for the Auditor’s office and prosecuting attorney for the case confirmed with Judge Eamon Costello that he had asked Liff to testify against Neff.

“The state will determine if her testimony is necessary,” said Smith. “She has been cooperating and has been cooperative in the past.”

In late June, Council members Rebecca Burns and Diane Spradlin, former council member Scott McClelland, Sheets, Village administrator John Martin along with Mark Pitstick, the village’s law director, were issued subpoenas to appear Aug. 15 to testify in Neff’s case. Requests were also sent for a custodian of records with J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, Dennis Graul, investigator for the Ohio Auditor of State and Melissa Barnett.

Earlier this month, former fiscal officer Cindy Miller and Council member Dave Timmons were issued subpoenas as well.

In addition, Madison Newsome, a former village employee has been sent a subpoena as well. Newsome received some property Johnson had purchased during his sting of purchases, including a 2013 Chevy Cruz which the village has since repossessed and sold.

Maximilian Kwiatkowski can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617, or on Twitter @msfkwiat.

By Maximilian Kwiatkowski

Mkwiatkowski@aimmediamidwest.com