Former Mt. Sterling Admin drops appeal effort

Former Mount Sterling Administrator Joe Johnson will not appeal his conviction and 10-year prison sentence.

Terrence Scott, Johnson’s public defender, filed a motion to dismiss his client’s appeal on Monday, Aug. 28.

Johnson is serving 10 years for racketeering, theft in office and related felonies. He was convicted last winter of stealing about $724,000 from village coffers between 2012 and 2016.

On March 30, Johnson’s previous defense attorney filed paperwork with Madison County Common Pleas Court to begin the appeal process. However, no additional paperwork was filed and the deadline passed to move the case forward.

Scott declined to give a reason for Monday’s dismissal, citing attorney-client privilege.

However, attorney Bob Smith, who prosecuted the case for Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost, anticipated that Johnson might appeal the prison time, based on lesser sentences for similar crimes by other defendants.

Smith said he was well prepared to argue against any effort to reduce Johnson’s sentence. Auditor Yost has called Johnson’s crimes among the most blatant instances of theft in office he has ever encountered.

Johnson resigned as Mount Sterling’s administrator in January 2016, saying comments posted on social media had made his job too difficult. Mayor Charlie Neff and fiscal officer Vickie Sheets resigned a month later.

Months of investigation followed, leading to Johnson’s indictment on 30 felony counts in July 2016.

Johnson pleaded guilty to seven of those counts in February 2017 as part of an arrangement that spared his wife, Tara, from prosecution.

In addition to the prison time, Johnson was ordered to make $724,239 in restitution to the village and pay an additional $43,000 for the state audit.

Vehicles, tools and appliances seized from Johnson’s home in Jackson — as well as the home itself — were forfeited to the state. The village is currently selling those items to recoup lost money.

A jury found Neff guilty of aiding Johnson’s thefts and falsifications on Aug. 16. His sentencing is set for Nov. 16.

Sheets, the former fiscal officer, pleaded guilty in March to falsifying Johnson’s resignation date, allowing him to withdraw his retirement money early. She was sentenced to one year probation, 80 hours community service and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine. A 180-day jail sentence was suspended. She also is barred from holding public office or a position of trust, but only during her probation.

Former village clerk Bonnie Liff pleaded guilty to theft in July and was sentenced to 10 days in jail and fined $1,000 for cashing in paid vacation in excess of what she was allowed. Liff also agreed to refund $21,444 in illegal cash-ins to the village. She is barred from holding public office or a position of trust for life.

The Madison Press