Mount Sterling’s former mayor is heading to trial this August after refusing a deal to plead guilty to theft in office charges.
Charlie Neff, 80, refused an offer Thursday by Robert Smith, assistant chief legal counsel for the Auditor’s office and prosecuting attorney for the case.
Smith said the offer was for Neff to plead guilty to only count one, theft in office, which is a third-degree felony. Specifically, the charge is issuing a check for $16,702 to former Village Administrator Joe Johnson for sick leave, much more than what Johnson was entitled to.
The other three charges, a misdemeanor count of falsification, a misdemeanor count of dereliction of duty as well as a second third-degree theft in office charge, would be dropped should Neff have agreed.
Neff and his attorney, Scott Mergenthaller, verbally confirmed to guest Judge Joseph T. Campbell, a retired justice from Greene County Common Pleas Court, the intent to go to trial and rejection of Smith’s offer.
The other felony charges include directing former fiscal officer Vicki Sheets 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 is over an accusation Neff failed to credit 25 percent of village income tax revenue to the village’s capital improvement fund.
In April, Neff and the village’s former clerk, Bonnie Liff, were indicted on felony charges.
Liff, 59, is charged on two third-degree felony counts of theft in office, for allegedly cashing in more sick leave time than she was permitted under village policy and more vacation time than she had earned.
Neff was arraigned in May with Liff. An informal pre-trial hearing was scheduled for June 2, but was cancelled due to the unavailability of a guest judge to preside over the hearing. Campbell was assigned to oversee all the hearings, with Thursday his first appearance in court for the case.
The trial for Neff is scheduled for Aug. 15 at 9 a.m.
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, have been 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.
Previously, former fiscal officers Cindy Miller and Lana Cydrus were issued subpoenas as well when the trial was still set for July 18. They were not issued subpoenas to appear for the August trial.
Bonnie Liff was also scheduled to have a formal pre-trial hearing Thursday, but it was re-scheduled to July 18 due to a member of her three-person counsel being unable to attend. A memorandum by her counsel, Roger Soroka, Joshua Bedtelyon and Noah Kurucz stated that “meaningful discussion” was occurring between the defense and the prosecution and a resolution may occur.
Other criminal cases heard Thursday in Madison County Common Pleas:
• Chad Baird, 39, of Mount Sterling was in court for violating his community control agreement again, specifically to repair a vehicle he had promised to fix and return.
According to Assistant County Prosecutor Nicholas Adkins, on June 11, Baird returned the vehicle he promised to repair on London’s Main Street, across from the county prosecutor’s office, depositing the keys in the former mailbox of Jennifer Hitt, an attorney who previously represented him.
According to an affidavit from the county probation office, Baird supplied a list of repairs done, but did not include any proof of purchase with the parts.
When asked if Baird had returned the vehicle repaired, Adkins simply replied: “Not at all.”
The department of probation had a London-based auto shop look at the vehicle, which they found to be missing numerous parts or had parts that were described to be damaged, needed replacing or were in “horrible condition.”
The mechanic also noted the repairs needed would cost more than the value of the vehicle itself.
A family friend had lent Baird’s girlfriend a vehicle. The friend made multiple attempts to get her car back from Baird and his girlfriend, but was unsuccessful. At the time of his sentencing, the vehicle had been in impounded and was inoperable, all while Baird was telling the friend he was fixing it.
In January, Costello ordered Baird to pay the impound fees and either fix the car himself or pay a professional by April 10 to restore the former friend’s car.
In a court hearing in late April, Baird had not finished repairing the car, but claimed he only needed to fix the exhaust and would be done.
Judge Eamon Costello gave him two more weeks to finish the job. He still had not finished by the hearing in May.
Baird claimed he was almost finished and that it was running, minus some parts. Costello didn’t believe this and gave Baird a week in jail and told him to have the vehicle repaired by June or else suffer further consequences.
The case is set to be heard again on July 18.
Maximilian Kwiatkowski can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617 or on Twitter @MSFKwiat.
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