Despite allegations of theft in office by the former village administrator Joe Johnson, Mount Sterling is not broke, officials told a packed council chamber on Monday.
Every seat was full, with some spectators listening from the hallway. It was the largest crowd to attend a council meeting since the village disbanded its police department in 2012.
Madison County Sheriff Jim Sabin and village law director Mark Pitstick were on hand for Monday’s meeting.
Sabin summarized the case law enforcement is building against Johnson, who was jailed without bond six days ago, following indictment on 30 felony counts. Those charges include engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, theft, money laundering, record tampering and failing to file personal taxes.
Sabin emphasized the investigation is ongoing. He said Johnson was jailed so investigators “could do their work without intimidation or fear.”
“Johnson can be an intimidating individual,” the sheriff said Tuesday.
Some local residents have used social media in recent days to demand the resignations of various village officials and share their own personal stories of negative interactions with Johnson.
Johnson, 46, is accused of stealing nearly $1 million in village funds between 2012 and 2016. However, Bob Smith, a special prosecutor from the Ohio Auditor of State’s Office, said the final sum may be closer to $600,000.
Johnson is slated for arraignment in Madison County Common Pleas Court on Wednesday morning.
Engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity — sometimes called racketeering — is a first-degree felony that could put Johnson behind bars for years.
Johnson allegedly bought vehicles, car parts, appliances, furniture, vacations and other items for himself and others with village money between 2012 and 2016.
Sabin and Pitstick outlined the current state of village finances during a question-and-answer session at Monday’s meeting.
The village has more than $1 million in the bank. The money is in four funds: $324,000 in the general fund, $310,000 in the water fund, $353,000 in the sewer fund and $35,000 in a fund specifically for street maintenance, Pitstick said.
Officials seized Johnson’s home in Jackson County last week. If convicted, Johnson will be forced to forfeit the house and two garages in order to repay Mount Sterling.
Pitstick said a lack of checks and balances led to the alleged thefts. Council members and the fiscal officer had no knowledge of the credit card Johnson used.
Procedures are now in place to eliminate any previous lack of oversight. Checks drawn on village accounts require two authorized signatures and credit cards have been eliminated. Three signatures are required on purchase orders. Employees must sign and maintain time sheets.
Village resident Gary Cooper was satisfied by Monday’s presentation.
“He hit the high spots,” Cooper said of Sabin’s remarks.
Cooper said Mount Sterling has put necessary procedures in place to avoid future thefts.
Resident Bob Siers expressed concern that village accounts went unmonitored for so long.
“It boggles the mind,” he said.
Siers said checks and balances should have been in place all along.
Resident Thomas Ward wanted to address council, but was not allowed.
In a prepared statement, Ward called for the immediate resignation of Mayor Lowell Anderson and members of the village finance committee.
“We no longer trust you,” Ward wrote.
Dean Shipley can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617, on Facebook at Dean Shipley or via Twitter @DeanAShipley.