Almost one month after being fired, former Faulkner County administrator Jeff Johnston, on Thursday, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor theft-of-property charge stemming from asphalt work done on Johnston’s driveway in 2008 using county resources.
Johnston entered the plea before Faulkner County Circuit Judge Mike Maggio. Johnston was sentenced to one year of probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and court costs.
Johnston was originally charged with felony theft-of-property for using county resources for asphalt work at his home. The amount of work done totaled $3,859.54.
Johnston was not ordered to pay restitution for the work because he had already paid the amount to the county road fund. The Faulkner County treasurer’s office received a check for the exact amount in the form of a donation from former Faulkner County Civil Attorney Stephan Hawks on June 23, 2010.
Faulkner County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Troy Braswell said the payment was categorized as a donation at the time, but was actually restitution.
"I think the bottom line is Mr. Johnston is not in a position to take advantage of the citizens of Faulkner County anymore," Faulkner County Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland told reporters afterwards. "The two things we wanted, him not having the purse strings to the county and criminal accountability. I think we got that today."
Hiland said the county can now move forward from something that has caused division for over a year.
"We’ve got a great county, great citizens," Hiland said. "They’ve deserved better than they have gotten from their county administrators, and I think we’re going to move forward from today."
Johnston was fired from his county position earlier this month. Hiland said if Johnston had not been fired, his resignation would have been a condition of his plea.
Johnston’s case has been a long process for all parties involved, which has included entities at the local, state and federal levels.
The Faulkner County sheriff’s office learned from a neighbor of Johnston in November 2008 that she believed Johnston was utilizing county resources after she witnessed dump trucks deliver three loads of asphalt to his residence, according to an affidavit.
After attempts to multiple parties and the failure to garner a subpoena from then-prosecuting attorney Marcus Vaden, the investigation was turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in March of 2009. After almost three years of no action taken by federal authorities, the case returned to the state level on Feb. 23, 2012, according to an affidavit.
The affidavit states that Stan Hargrove told sheriff’s deputies in March of 2012 that he and Mark Hearon, who owned the dump trucks, performed the work at Johnston’s home. The affidavit states Hearon later admitted to helping with the asphalt work.
Hargrove said Johnston paid him cash for the work, approximately 2 weeks before the driveway was paved, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit states that when Hargrove asked Johnston how they would get the asphalt Johnston said by charging it to the county, "the way we always do it."
The sheriff’s office investigation confirmed three loads of asphalt were picked up by trucks belonging to Hearon and delivered to Johnston’s home in Mount Vernon. The loads were billed to the Faulkner County Road Shop on July 17, 2008, the affidavit states.
The loads were submitted for payment on a Faulkner County purchase order, and paid for with a Faulkner County check written to Rogers Group Inc. for $79,741.47.
Hargrove told sheriff’s deputies that he received multiple calls from Stephan Hawks who told him the project was a "turn-key" job and that Hargrove needed to sign a receipt prepared by Hawks, the affidavit states.
Hargrove said he initially agreed to sign the receipt, but later called Hawks and said he would not because it was not right.
In an interview with then-Faulkner County sheriff Karl Byrd, the Faulkner County treasurer Regina Oakley informed Byrd that she had provided documents to a federal agent regarding the asphalt work, and said the federal agent informed her that she would be receiving a check from Johnston or Hawks in the amount of $3,859.54.
Oakley said she received a check for the amount from Hawks on June 23, 2010 in the form of a donation to the county road fund.
Johnston was arrested and charged charged in August with felony theft-of-property, a class B felony with a potential sentence of 5-20 years in prison.
Johnston’s trial was scheduled to start Aug. 29.
Hiland said Thursday even though Johnston will not serve time in prison, there is still criminal accountability and that Johnston received the same treatment as any other defendant.
"He’s no longer a harm to citizens of Faulkner County," Hiland said. "I think that’s important."
(Staff writer Lee Hogan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1246. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)