|Former Calhoun Magistrate Steve Johnson pled guilty to stealing $1000 from
public funds yesterday in a plea bargain agreement before Calhoun Circuit
The plea crosses the felony threshold, although special prosecutor Robert
William Schulenberg III said "He misappropriated more than $1000," in what
he described as a violation of public trust.
Schulenberg told Judge David Nibert it was a case of a public official using
money from a magistrate court as his bank.
Judge Nibert asked the former magistrate "Are you in fact guilty?" after
which he replied "Yes."
The prosecutor said Johnson made restitution of some misappropriated
funds, indicating about $3000 had been paid back. Schulenberg said six
additional "traffic tickets" have reportedly surfaced, that Johnson
apparently skimmed from his office accounts. He indicated an amount in
excess of $1000 was still to be recovered.
Johnson's office was audited by the West Virginia State Auditor's Office at
the request of the West Virginia Supreme Court. Discrepancies surfaced last
October, after which Johnson resigned and moved to South Carolina.
An earlier audit done by the West Virginia Supreme Court questioned a
number of magistrate office practices, including an accounting system and
the way bank deposits were made.
Details of a more recent $27,000 audit have yet to be made public.
The audit also said the court failed to notify the Department of Motor
Vehicles after individuals did not pay their fines, which would have led to
license suspensions for non-payment. Johnson told the Calhoun Commission
last year such a practice was routine.
Judge Nibert said the plea does not affect what punishment will be given
Johnson, with a pre-sentence hearing scheduled for November 22. He could
face 1-10 years in prison and a $2500 fine.
Nibert ordered Adult Probation Officer Patsy McCartney of Grantsville to do
a pre-sentence investigation, which will be used in Johnson's sentencing.
McCartney, who has worked in the local court system for several years, has
yet to recuse herself as did Judge Thomas Evans and Prosecuting Attorney
Prosecutor Schulenberg said Johnson's failure to accept the plea
arrangement would have resulted in taking his case before a Calhoun Grand
Judge Nibert spent nearly a half hour informing Johnson of his rights,
frequently stopping to clarify each issue. He told Johnson the dismissed
charges could be restored if there is a violation of the plea agreement.
Nibert expressed concern additional "tickets" or misuse of funds had been
Johnson was taken to the West Virginia State Police barracks to prepare an
identification chart, after which he was released on $1000 PR bond.
Johnson was represented by attorney David Karickhoff.