COLUMBUS – Former Mt. Sterling Mayor Charles Neff was convicted late Wednesday for theft in office, falsification and dereliction of duty stemming from his approval of excessive payouts for employee sick time and vacation pay that were not allowed or had not been earned.
“With this conviction, all of those responsible for the theft of funds or negligence in allowing the thefts to occur in Mt. Sterling have been prosecuted,” Auditor Dave Yost said. “Unfortunately, the scars left by this dark period of selfishness and lax oversight will impact this community for years to come.”
In a related development, former Mt. Sterling administrative assistant and utilities clerk Bonnie Liff was sentenced to 10 days in jail and ordered to pay $21,444 in restitution for theft in office stemming from her cashing in sick leave and vacation time to which she was not entitled. Madison County Common Pleas Court Judge Eamon Costello also placed Liff on probation for two years.
“What happened in Mt. Sterling is a sad story on many levels,” Yost said. “No one can stop a determined person from stealing, but strong controls and oversight can minimize the risk and uncover it when it happens. In Mt. Sterling, a greedy individual took advantage of the fact controls and oversight were lacking, and the village is now in fiscal emergency as a consequence.”
The village was declared to be in fiscal emergency by Auditor Yost on June 22.
Former Mayor Neff
Neff was indicted April 17 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 following an investigation by local law enforcement and the Ohio Auditor of State.
A jury convicted Neff Wednesday of theft in office and falsification for signing off an overpayment to former Village Administrator Joseph Johnson for $9,530 worth of sick leave in excess of what Johnson was entitled to receive. Neff also was convicted of dereliction of duty for failing to credit 25 percent of village income tax revenue to the village’s capital improvement fund as required by village ordinance. He is to be sentenced Nov. 16.
Neff’s conviction is the 137th during Auditor Yost’s tenure as Auditor of State. An interactive map available here provides information on all of the cases.
Former Administrative Assistant Bonnie Liff
Liff was indicted on two third-degree felony counts of theft in office in April and pleaded guilty July 24 to a fourth-degree felony count of theft in office.
An investigation by the Auditor of State’s office and local law enforcement into the crimes of former village administrator Joseph Johnson uncovered Liff’s thefts. Auditors and investigators determined that Liff cashed out 426 hours of vacation leave in excess of what she had accrued, resulting in a theft from the village of $9,383. Liff also cashed out 543 hours of sick leave in excess of what she was permitted, resulting in a theft of $12,061.
“One by one, we’ve prosecuted and convicted those who played loose with the taxpayers’ purse and were caught stealing from the citizens of Mt. Sterling,” Auditor Yost said. “We’ve brought to an end the ‘anything-goes’ culture we uncovered here, one the community can ill-afford and one no community should ever endure.”
Neff is the fourth official in Mt. Sterling to be convicted of a crime as a result of the investigation into Johnson.
Johnson was sentenced in March to 10 years in prison for spending village funds on personal items including vehicles, automotive equipment and electronics, with the thefts totaling more than $724,000.
Also in March, Sheets, the former village bookkeeper, 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.
Auditor of State Assistant Legal Counsel Robert F. Smith served as special prosecutor in these cases.