Less than two weeks after former Mount Sterling administrator Joe Johnson was sentenced to prison for theft in office, another criminal charge has surfaced in the case rocking the village.
Former fiscal officer Vickie Sheets pleaded guilty to falsification, a first-degree misdemeanor, in a special all-in-one hearing Friday morning in Madison County Municipal Court.
The charge relates to Sheets assisting Johnson with obtaining his pension benefits early.
The 69-year-old 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.
While she is on probation, Sheets is forbidden from holding a “position of trust” within the community.
Tom Arrington, Sheets’ attorney, asked Judge Eric Schooley to reconsider the last stipulation.
Sheets is currently employed as the fiscal officer for the Mt. Sterling Public Library and Community Museum. She is also the fiscal officer for Monroe Township in Pickaway County, an elected position.
Schooley maintained the ruling, stating that Sheets is not to hold a position in which she is in charge of public funds while on probation to prevent a similar situation from happening again.
Sheets previously admitted to investigators that she had falsified Johnson’s resignation date, from Jan. 15, 2016 to Nov. 29, 2015, allowing him to withdraw his retirement money from the Ohio Public Employee Retirement System (OPERS) six weeks early before investigators could freeze the account.
Johnson put the $131,000 he received towards the purchase of his Jackson home, which he bought for $180,000 less than a month after receiving the money.
According to investigator Dennis Graul, in 2014 Sheets took the more than $100,000 total credit card purchases made by Johnson and then balanced the village’s yearly expenses by describing these as miscellaneous credit card charges on the end of year reconciliation.
Graul also noted village checks from December 2012 until January 2016, used by Johnson, were signed by Sheets and had no documentation to prove they were cashed for legitimate village needs.
During Friday’s court proceedings, Arrington said Sheets has worked as a fiscal officer for 25 years, and has no prior criminal history outside of a single traffic ticket.
Arrington said that Sheets was pressured by Johnson to submit the false document to OPERS and eventually relented. Arrington also noted she did not receive any type of financial reward for the falsification, which special prosecutor Bob Smith confirmed.
“While Sheets did not benefit personally from her actions, what she did was illegal and nearly prevented our office from protecting the interests of Mt. Sterling taxpayers,” Auditor Dave Yost said in a statement released Friday.
Sheets was hired by in December 2012 by Johnson after the former fiscal officer, Lana Cydrus, was let go.
Cydrus had filed harassment complaints against Johnson, according to a summary of a September 2016 interview between state investigators and Lowell Anderson, obtained by The Press this week. Anderson was the chair of council’s finance committee and serves as the current mayor.
According to the summary, Anderson said Johnson wanted to “get rid of” Cydrus, though Anderson described her work as meticulous, saying that any issues could have been worked out.
However, Johnson told investigators last August that Anderson and former Mayor Charlie Neff were also unhappy with Cydrus’ work. Cydrus was given a $10,000 payout and let go.
Shortly after Johnson terminated Cydrus Sheets was hired and worked roughly eight hours a week, though the previous fiscal officer was a full-time employee.
Investigators told Anderson that it is council’s responsibility to hire and fire employees — not Johnson’s.
According to the summary, Anderson was unable to offer an explanation to the statement, saying he “can’t say why” Johnson hired all of the employees and that council obviously “let it go, slid by us.”
Anderson stated that he voiced his concerns about Johnson taking control of the hiring and firing to Neff, but nothing was done, and he also brought the matter to the attention of solicitor Mark Pitstick, “who failed to take any action once he was advised,” the summary states.
Neff and Sheets both resigned within days of each other one month after Johnson.
While the misdemeanor is the only criminal charge Sheets faces, Smith left the door open for her to be held financially responsible in civil court should investigators find transactions that have no invoice to support them.
Following the hearing, Smith said they opted to expedite the process as a “timing issue” and said there are “other court hearings coming” — indicating more involved in Johnson’s brazen thefts will see their day in court soon.
Reach Erin Thompson at 740-852-1616, ext. 1615.