A former Cass County auditor pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of official misconduct more than a year after he was accused of stealing and claiming false reimbursements while he was in office.
Ronald G. Johnson, who was the county auditor from 2011 to 2014, was originally charged last year with receiving stolen property, a Class C felony.
Johnson, of Raymore, represented himself in the case, which was assigned to Steven M. Kretzer, a special prosecutor with the Missouri Attorney General’s Office.
Johnson, 49, appeared Nov. 21 in Cass County Circuit Court for a plea hearing, two weeks after records said the state renewed its offer for a plea deal.
The former auditor pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of official misconduct, a Class A misdemeanor, for receiving fees for cellular devices and claiming reimbursements for cash he wasn’t entitled to during his tenure.
Johnson initially entered a not guilty plea during a Nov. 7 arraignment, and a trial was scheduled for April 2. The trial won’t be necessary now that Johnson changed his plea.
Judge John R. O’Malley, who was assigned the case in August, accepted Johnson’s guilty plea Nov. 21. He ordered Johnson to serve one-year of unsupervised probation and pay $2,865.09 in restitution plus court costs.
The judge ordered Johnson to pay all restitution and court costs within 24 months but urged the former public official to get it paid off as early as possible.
Court records said Johnson could apply for early discharge from probation once he pays all restitution and court costs.
The amended charge filed by the state, to which Johnson pleaded guilty, comes more than a year after the Missouri State Highway Patrol submitted a probable cause statement alleging theft by the former auditor.
Authorities said the theft “occurred in various forms,” noting missing equipment and petty-cash closeouts and alleging that Johnson claimed false reimbursements for food, fuel, mileage, cellular devices, and other personal items.
The overall monetary loss for the county was estimated at $2,865.09, according to court documents. Authorities said the alleged thefts occurred from September 2011 to October 2014.
Court records show Johnson filed motions earlier this year to have the case against him dismissed, but Johnson County Associate Judge Chad N. Pfister denied the motion in May and O’Malley denied a dismissal again earlier in November.
Previous reports from the Cass County Democrat-Missourian said the Missouri Attorney General’s Office requested an investigation into the former auditor after the current county auditor, Ryan Wescoat, submitted an audit report to law enforcement in September 2015. That report concluded that Johnson had used a county credit card to buy items such as food, gasoline, a cellphone, a television, and other items for personal use.
An outside firm, Cochran Head Vick & Co., also provided an independent audit during part of Johnson’s term, reports said.
Wescoat said last year that he began investigating Johnson’s spending during his first months as auditor in 2015 after he could not locate equipment purchased by his predecessor. Wescoat also said the auditor’s office is statutorily required to audit outgoing elected officials’ financial records.
Johnson is Wescoat’s former boss. In 2011, Johnson fired Wescoat, who was a chief deputy in the auditor’s office.
Three years later, the two faced off in the Republican primary for Cass County auditor in 2014. Wescoat won the primary by a 14-point margin and went on to win the general election against the Democratic candidate, Bill Smith.
The state called Wescoat to the stand Nov. 21 during Johnson’s sentencing.
In court, Wescoat said Johnson, as the county auditor, went after seven former and current officials for wrongdoing, yet he appeared to have committed wrongdoing himself while in office that contributed to what Wescoat described as a “loss of trust” in county officials.
Before he was sentenced, Johnson described to the judge his past role as auditor, adding that he “stood (his) ground” on costly county projects — including the county’s broadband fiber network project and Tri-Gen, a generator that had been built to provide electrical power to the Cass County Justice Center.
While addressing the judge, Johnson also said personal health and family issues affected him while in office.
“We made a lot of purchases during the time I was there,” Johnson said. “... There were a couple I should have known or didn’t know were wrong.”