Former Mt. Sterling administrator claims innocence in letter

LONDON, Ohio — In an angry, bitter and sometimes rambling letter to The Madison Press editor, former Mount Sterling Administrator Joe Johnson protests his innocence and accuses current village employees of permitting and encouraging his actions.

Johnson pleaded guilty in March to theft in office and other felonies and is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence. He is appealing the sentence.

In the letter, postmarked Aug. 18 and received by The Press Tuesday, Johnson accuses current Mayor Lowell Anderson of lying to prosecutors about Johnson’s pay and financial considerations. Specifically, Johnson said during an April 2012 meeting Anderson encouraged him to “clean up” the village and promised to pay him a percentage of any improvement projects that he fostered.

“We needed new streets and water and sewer plant upgraded, water towers fixed. That with every project you would give me a percentage of them. Well, I done $24 million in projects, Mr. Mayor,” Johnson wrote.

He said Anderson also gave him free rein to charge on the village credit card, as long as he kept the receipts.

“You also told me that I could use the credit card for all my expenses that you approve for with Lana (Cydrus) and I keep all my receipts for Vicky (Sheets)…”

Johnson said he asked Anderson if village council needed to approve the credit card charges and Anderson said “no.”

According to Johnson, Anderson said he was president of the village finance committee and the “boss” of expenditures. Johnson said Anderson didn’t want expenditures publicized.

“That way Facebook won’t blow it out of proportion,” Anderson is accused of saying.

Johnson also said a letter approving his credit card use “disappeared.”

Anderson declined comment, saying he was done dealing with the case.

Later on in the letter, Johnson also questions recent disposal of his personal property, including cars, by current village administrator John Martin.

“The administrator Mr. Martin. How can you sale [sic] my property without bids or auction anything over $999 has to be advertised…,” Johnson wrote. “You called the car lot where I bought that 2008 Charger and asked him how much he (would) pay for it. Well you should have checked who he was. He is one of my best friends,” Johnson wrote.

Martin responded Tuesday that he did discuss selling the Charger to the original dealer, but was offered only $3,500 for the vehicle. Martin turned that offer down.

Broker Tom Corbin eventually resold the Charger for more money than it would have brought at auction, Martin said.

While some questions persist about whether or not disposal of Johnson’s property falls under a specific section of Ohio law, Martin said the village is doing it’s best to recoup lost money and remain transparent about the process.

“Everything has been done above board with oversight by the state auditor and sheriff,” Martin told The Press Tuesday.

Johnson’s letter also accuses Sheriff Jim Sabin of hiring Martin as a commissioned deputy — a potential conflict of interest with Martin’s position as administrator.

Sabin denied the conflict accusation.

He said Martin works occasionally as a special deputy, but is never assigned to Mount Sterling.

“I emphasize he does not work in the village,” Sabin said Tuesday.

On a similar note, Johnson said he was instrumental in dissolving the village police department in favor of oversight by the sheriff’s office.

“Mr. Sabin, if I was that big of a thief, I wouldn’t work so hard to get the sheriff department into Mount Sterling…” Johnson wrote.

Johnson also said he pleaded guilty in March only to spare his wife from prosecution.

“The kids already lost their dad. They didn’t need to lose their mom, too,” he wrote. “That was the hardest thing I had to do … to plead guilty to something that I was told to do.”

Johnson said he now regrets turning down Anderson’s alleged offer of a project percentage.

“I should have said yes instead of no,” he wrote. “I wouldn’t be in this prison and away from my family.”

During his recent trial, former mayor Charlie Neff testified that he was for giving Johnson one percent of the grant money he had brought into the village as a bonus after his resignation, but Anderson and the rest of the finance committee had voted it down.

Johnson also cautioned Mount Sterling residents against taking anything for granted — especially from council members and officials. He urged village voters to “clean house.”

He thanked his family for ongoing support. And, in a bitter note, chided his “so-called friends” for abandoning him when he needed them.

“Thanks for nothing,” he wrote.

The Madison Press