(Posted April 20, 2017)
A former mayor and current administrative assistant of the village of Mount Sterling were indicted by the Madison County grand jury on a variety of theft counts, following an investigation by local law enforcement and the Ohio Auditor of State.
Former Village Mayor Charles Neff was indicted 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.
Bonnie Liff, administrative assistant and utilities clerk for the village, was indicted on two third-degree felony counts of theft in office.
The indictments were unsealed April 17 when they were served by Madison County Sheriff James P. Sabin. The indictments are related to the investigation that recently led to a 10-year prison sentence for former Mount Sterling village administrator Joseph A. Johnson, who pleaded guilty to felony theft and related crimes for misusing village credit cards to buy more than $724,000 of vehicles, auto parts, televisions and other items for his personal use between 2012 and 2016. In March, former village bookkeeper Victoria L. 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.
“When a government employee steals from taxpayers, it’s always an outrage, but there is something especially disturbing in a case such as this, in which village officers are accused of colluding to steal not from strangers, but from their very own neighbors in their small community,” said Auditor of State Dave Yost. “Two former village officials have answered for their misdeeds. Now the courts will determine if others also have done wrong.”
Neff is accused of issuing a check for $16,702 to Johnson for sick leave in excess of what Johnson 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. These led to the two felony charges and the falsification count. Neff also is accused of failing to credit 25 percent of village income tax revenue to the village’s capital improvement fund, resulting in the dereliction of duty indictment.
Liff is accused of cashing in more sick-leave time than she was permitted to under village policy and more vacation time than she had accrued, resulting in two felony counts of theft in office.
Robert F. Smith, Auditor of State assistant legal counsel, served as special prosecutor in the case.