JACKSON, OHIO — Former Mount Sterling Administrator Joe Johnson, 46, was arrested Tuesday morning, charged with stealing nearly $1 million in village funds over a four-year period, then falsifying records to cover it up.
The dollar amount may increase once a full investigation is completed, said Madison County Prosecutor Steve Pronai.
Sheriff Jim Sabin and a contingent of deputies arrested Johnson without incident before 8 a.m. at 3203 Camba Road, south of Jackson. He waived extradition and was later jailed at Tri-County without bond.
Sabin considers Johnson a flight risk.
Johnson’s arraignment is scheduled for 9 a.m. on July 27 in Madison County Common Pleas Court.
Johnson had been Mount Sterling’s village administrator four years when he resigned in January, saying comments posted on social media had made the job too difficult.
Lowell Anderson succeeded Charlie Neff as Mount Sterling’s mayor in February after Neff resigned. Fiscal officer Vickie Sheets resigned the same month.
An audit, triggered by the administration change, revealed village assets were missing or unaccounted for. The former mayor’s computer hard drive was wiped clean and several other computers, tablets and cell phones were missing.
At the same time, it was learned Johnson had purchased a mower with a village check for $9,599 in April 2015 and had attempted to sell it at a yard sale at his Jackson residence in May 2015.
Anderson and other village officials alerted Sabin.
Pronai asked Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost to investigate further. Yost’s office was already conducting the administration-change audit, Sabin said.
In the meantime, Johnson relocated to southeast Ohio.
Based on findings by Yost’s investigators, Johnson was indicted by the Madison County grand jury last week on 30 felony counts. Those charges include racketeering — a first-degree felony, as well as theft in office, money laundering, record tampering and failing to file personal income taxes.
Sabin said the investigation into Mount Sterling’s finances is ongoing. Bob Smith from Yost’s office was appointed special prosecutor in the case. Dennis Graul, also of the auditor’s office, is the lead investigator.
Anderson declined to comment on Tuesday, saying he had not seen the indictment or other paperwork associated with the case.
In a prepared statement, Yost called the case “alarming and disturbing in terms of volume and brazenness.”
“The justice system will sort through this information to determine Mr. Johnson’s guilt or innocence,” Yost said.
Jane Beathard is a contributing writer for The Madison Press.