Mt. Sterling council member dodges charges

By Erin Thompson -

A Mount Sterling council member will avoid criminal charges for selling his personal pick-up truck to the village — and then to former village administrator Joe Johnson — due to the statute of limitations running out.

There was an effort by investigators with the state auditor’s office to charge council member Jim Davis with unlawful interest in a public contract, a first-degree misdemeanor, prosecutor Bob Smith told The Press on Tuesday.

According to a criminal investigation summary by investigator Dennis Graul, in May of 2013 Davis sold a 1998 Chevrolet pick-up truck to the village for $6,000. Because Davis was a council member at the time of the sale, the transaction was illegal.

Shortly after, then-council president and finance chairman Lowell Anderson told Davis the move was illegal, according to the prosecutor’s summary of the matter.

On June 6, 2013 — one month later — Davis purchased the truck back from the village for the same price.

But days later, Davis sold it to Johnson as a “private citizen” for $6,000. Davis told investigators Johnson “had been after him for several years” to sell the truck.

Johnson deposited about $8,900 of village money into his personal account on June 10, 2013 — the same day he bought the truck.

When investigators walked the Davises through the transaction during an interview, “they both set back in their chairs without comment,” Graul’s summary states.

“Mr. Davis then commented somewhat hesitantly, ‘Then it was village funds used to pay me for the truck,’” Graul wrote.

But, the law dictates that authorities have two years after a public official leaves office to file charges for a crime committed while in office. That time period has passed.

Davis was a council member at the time of the transaction and is a current council member, but there was a two-year span where he was off council, beginning at the end of 2013 until he was re-appointed in 2015.

This break saved Davis from being charged, Smith said.

“We can’t prove that Davis knew it was stolen money,” he added.

The relationship between Johnson and Davis goes beyond village hall. In October 2011, the Johnson family moved into a rental property on Foster-Redman Road owned by the Davises.

It was later discovered that the gas bills for the home were billed to the village.

The Johnson family paid $500 per month from December 2011 until January 2015, when rent was increased to $700 per month because Johnson wanted use of an entire pole barn on the property. The parties agreed.

While there are rumors that the barn was paid for with village money, Smith stated they found nothing to support the notion.

According to Smith, the Davises provided receipts showing the work was paid from their personal accounts. Further, investigators analyzed Johnson’s bank statements from the time and found no transactions that indicated Johnson paid for the construction.

“Joe stole a lot of money, but that’s not where it went,” Smith said.

Davis faces no criminal charges, but Smith maintains that the “investigation continues” and more charges are coming.

The summary also states the only time Davis and Johnson exchanged “harsh words” was in June of 2015, when Davis questioned the former village administrator about an alleged affair Johnson was having with clerk Madison Newsome. Johnson denied the rumors when it was discussed.

Calls to Davis for comment on Tuesday were not returned at time of publication.

Reach Erin Thompson at 740-837-4502.

By Erin Thompson