JACKSON, OHIO — The house at 3203 Camba Road, south of Jackson, was abuzz with activity earlier this week.
Following the arrest of former Mount Sterling Administrator Joe Johnson, deputies from both Madison and Jackson counties searched the man’s residence and two garages.
They confiscated appliances, televisions, vehicles, electronics, a mower, a flat-bed trailer, power washer, firearms and tools — allegedly bought with village credit cards and cash.
A nine-page search warrant lists dozens of items Johnson purchased between 2012 and 2016. The warrant says there’s “probable cause to believe Mr. Johnson is still in possession of many of the items which he illegally purchased with funds stolen from the village.”
Johnson was free to write checks and charge on village accounts without approval by former Mount Sterling Mayor Charlie Neff or others, the warrant says. He made about $300,000 in purchases from 191 businesses on a village Chase credit card he opened himself.
Other items bought with village money included nine guns, two washers and dryers, electronics and video-gaming systems, furniture, tools, vacation/trips, cabinets, four portable air conditioners — and even dental work, the warrant says.
A Dodge Charger, Ford F-350 pick-up and Ford Mustang were among the vehicles confiscated on Tuesday.
Madison County Sheriff Jim Sabin anticipates a forfeiture action against the Camba Road property — allegedly bought by Johnson with $131,351 in public employee retirement funds. Johnson is accused of backdating his retirement date from January to Nov. 29, 2015 to allow him to access the money sooner, thereby protecting it from restitution in the criminal case officials believe he knew was coming.
The former fiscal officer innocently made the retirement change under Johnson’s direction, according to court documents.
The search warrant indicates Johnson immediately used that money to buy the southeast Ohio residence
Johnson is also accused of pocketing $16,702 for 350 hours of accrued sick leave. Village policy only allows cash out of 80 sick leave hours annually. Johnson also allowed another unnamed employee to cash out $10,016 for 442 hours of sick leave.
The search warrant says Johnson used village money to buy a vehicle for a former female co-worker.
Madison Renee Newsome is named in a 30-count indictment against Johnson, returned by the Madison County grand jury last week. Johnson is accused of buying a 2013 Chevrolet Cruz, titled in Newsome’s name, in March 2013. Cost of the vehicle: $14,800.
It’s a drop in the bucket to the nearly $1 million Johnson is accused of stealing from the village. Madison County Prosecutor Steve Pronai said that dollar figure could go higher.
He allegedly bought vehicles, then traded them in on other models as a means of laundering the stolen money.
“He has a history of flipping cars quickly,” Sabin said.
In April 2015, Johnson purchased a zero-turn mower from Green & Sons near Mount Sterling, saying it was for the baseball field. It was purchased on a bid discount for governmental purposes for $9,599. Johnson used an appropriate invoice and the village later issued Green & Sons a check. However, Johnson allegedly sold the mower a month later at a yard sale in Jackson.
In November 2013, he allegedly bought a 2004 Outback camper from Tom Raper with $13,600.
Johnson is also accused of manipulating the village’s automated payroll system (ADP) in 2014 to pay himself $63,678 more than his $60,000 annual salary. He allegedly did it again in 2015 — adding $107,089 to his pay.
Between June 2013 and December 2015, Johnson transferred more than $190,000 in excess payroll to the personal bank account he shared with his wife, Tara Johnson. Tara withdrew the money immediately after checks were deposited in her husband’s account, the warrant says.
Johnson is also accused of failing to file personal income taxes in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Sabin emphasized the investigation into Johnson isn’t over. He would not confirm if additional arrests are in the offing.
Authorities made the decision to present what they had to a grand jury last week so that Johnson could be arrested and officials could move to seize assets and recover items.
Jane Beathard is a contributing writer for The Madison Press.