Felony charges were filed today through the prosecutor’s office against Faulkner County administrator Jeff Johnston.
Johnston has been accused of using county funds to apply asphalt to the driveway at his home in 2008, according to Faulkner County Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland. The amount of county funds used to pave the driveway totaled $3,859.54.
Hiland said the investigation began by the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office in November 2008 and was turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2009. After nearly three years, no action was taken by federal agencies, and the case was returned to the state level. He said that the reason the case was returned was because "this particular type of theft of property was better pursued at the state level."
"We are not going to sweep crime under the rug because of the person involved," Hiland said. "There doesn’t need to be two sets of rules, one for those who are connected and those for John Q. Public."
Hiland said the theft of property of county funds constituted a Class "B" felony and is punishable by up to 5-20 years in prison.
Hiland said the investigation revealed that county funds were used at Johnston’s address and that Johnston and former Faulkner County Civil Attorney Stephan Hawks attempted to cover it up through a newly made receipt for the materials initially charged to the county and a donation to the county road fund in the exact dollar amount of the asphalt used.
"Restitution does not absolve you of the alleged crime," Hiland said. "If someone is using public monies, that erodes the public trust."
According to an investigation by Capt. John Randall of the sheriff’s office, a neighbor of Johnston told the sheriff’s department that she had witnessed dump trucks deliver three loads of asphalt in the summer of 2008 to Johnston’s address by Mark Hearon, a contractor she knew. She said she believed Johnston was utilizing county resources to have an asphalt surface applied to his driveway in Mt. Vernon. When Hearon was contacted, he said he had been contracted to perform work for the county, but he did not remember performing work for Johnston. He was asked to search his receipts for any work done.
After being unable to contact Hearon for three months, investigators spoke with him at his residence, but he said he was instructed by his attorney not to talk with investigators. He said his records would have to be subpoenaed.
Rogers Group, a company that supplies asphalt, said that Hearon’s trucks had picked up loads of asphalt the previous summer, and it had been billed to the county. The inability to garner a subpoena from Marcus Vaden, the prosecuting attorney at the time, had prompted the sheriff’s office to contact federal authorities.
After no federal action was taken, the investigation returned to the state level in February 2012. Shortly after, Stan Hargrove stated that he and Hearon had performed labor on Johnston’s driveway in 2008 and had been paid in cash by Johnston. Hargrove also stated that Johnston had said the asphalt was to be charged to the county, "the way we always do it."
Three ticket numbers for loads of asphalt were confirmed delivered to Johnston’s driveway and were billed to Faulkner County Road Shop with the invoice dated July 17, 2008. The total of the three loads was $3,859.54. The loads were submitted for payment as part of a Faulkner County Purchase Order totalling $79,741.47 and approved by Faulkner County Judge Preston Scroggin.
Hargrove said that Johnston had later called asking for a receipt for the driveway. Hargrove said he could provide a receipt for the labor but not for the asphalt. The two debated on whether the job on the driveway was a "turn-key" operation, one which encompasses the entirety of work including materials. Hargrove said he was then contacted by Hawks, who said he had prepared a receipt labelling the job as a "turn-key" job needing Hargrove’s signature. Hargrove said he declined to sign the receipt.
In late March, Hearon confirmed that he had helped Hargrove perform labor on Johnston’s driveway. He also confirmed that he had picked up three loads of asphalt from Rogers Group, which was billed to the county. He said that at the time, he received a call from Vaden telling him that he did not need to talk to any investigators without a subpoena.
Faulkner County Treasurer Regina Oakley said she had received a check from Hawks in the amount of $3,859.54 as a donation to the County Road Fund on June 23, 2010.