COLUMBUS – Former Mt. Sterling administrative assistant Bonnie Liff pleaded guilty today to a fourth-degree felony count of theft in office, making her the third village employee convicted following an investigation into the crimes of former village administrator Joseph Johnson.
As part of a plea agreement, Liff will pay the village $21,444 in exchange for the state’s dismissal of a second count of theft in office. The restitution covers the amounts from both counts. The state will recoup the funds from Liff’s pension account, which was frozen during the investigation.
“Justice is now three-quarters served for the citizens of Mt. Sterling,” Auditor Yost said. “Once a fourth and final conviction is obtained, the village can put this mess to bed and focus on repairing the damage left in the wake of Joseph Johnson and his cronies.”
Liff will be sentenced Aug. 17.
Liff, who also served as a utility clerk for the village located in Madison County, was indicted in April after investigators discovered she cashed in more sick-leave time than she was permitted to under village policy, as well as more vacation time than she had accrued.
The findings resulted from an investigation by the Auditor of State’s office and local law enforcement into Johnson’s theft of more than $724,000. He was sentenced in March to 10 years in prison for spending village funds on personal items including vehicles, automotive equipment and electronics.
Also in March, former village bookkeeper Victoria Sheets pleaded guilty to falsification for doctoring the date on a document that allowed Johnson to obtain his state pension benefits early, before investigators could freeze the account.
Meanwhile, former Village Mayor Charles Neff awaits a hearing scheduled for Aug. 15 amid his indictment on two third-degree felony counts of theft in office, a first-degree misdemeanor count of falsification and a second-degree misdemeanor count of dereliction of duty.
Neff is accused of issuing a $16,702 check to Johnson for sick leave in excess of what he was entitled to receive, and of directing Sheets to issue a $38,120 check to Johnson, paying him more than he was authorized to receive for vacation and sick leave payout. He also allegedly failed to credit 25 percent of village income tax revenue to the village’s capital improvement fund.
Robert Smith, assistant chief legal counsel for the Auditor’s office, was appointed special prosecutor for all four cases.
Following a fiscal analysis of the village, Auditor Yost placed the village in a state of fiscal emergency on June 22. The analysis identified deficit balances in village funds totaling $340,491 and $269,437 as of Dec. 31, 2016, and April 30, 2017, respectively.
The Auditor of State’s office, one of five independently elected statewide offices in Ohio, is responsible for auditing more than 5,900 state and local government agencies. Under the direction of Auditor Dave Yost, the office also provides financial services to local governments, investigates and prevents fraud in public agencies and promotes transparency in government.