published Friday, July 27th, 2012

Pikeville mayor, Greg Johnson, charged with official misconduct, felony theft

Pikeville, Tenn., Mayor Greg Johnson
Pikeville, Tenn., Mayor Greg Johnson
Photo by Ben Benton /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The longtime mayor of Pikeville, Tenn., is accused of misusing more than $170,000 in taxpayer funds.

Greg Johnson, who is in his third term, is free on $10,000 bond after being arrested Wednesday on charges of official misconduct and felony theft in the wake of a monthslong investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury Office.

Officials at Pikeville City Hall said Johnson had not come into the office on Thursday. City Hall staff also said he has not submitted any correspondence regarding his plans as mayor.

Johnson, 50, was first elected to the Pikeville Board of Aldermen at age 19.

Mike Taylor, district attorney in the 12th Judicial District, said Thursday that Johnson is charged with four counts of official misconduct and one count of theft in excess of $60,000 on grand jury indictments issued Monday.

Among the accusations is that Johnson spent more than $100,000 on used cars never put in the city fleet, cashed a check for $16,000 for his own use and took a monthly stipend from the city to pay for health insurance when he already had health insurance elsewhere.

The investigation, which covered the period between July 2010 and February 2012, arose from complaints made to the prosecutor's office around the first of the year, Taylor said.

"Back in the late winter, I started receiving complaints initially about the purchase of some used vehicles that had been stored at [a] building at the industrial park there in Pikeville," Taylor said.

Soon after, other complaints were made that the mayor "was using public monies for his own use," Taylor said, so the district attorney contracted the state Comptroller of the Treasury Office.

Bledsoe County Sheriff's Investigator Ricky Seals said Wednesday that Johnson surrendered at the jail after having his attorney contact local authorities.

Johnson could not be reached for comment, and messages could not be left on his home phone.

Johnson's legal counsel, Dunlap, Tenn., lawyer Steve Greer, said Thursday he couldn't comment until he sees the formal indictment and that his comments would be limited even then.

He did say, though, that Johnson probably will keep his mayor's post for now.

"I don't think he's legally required to step down," Greer said. "I haven't looked into it yet, but people are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty."

Taylor said the first misconduct count stems from the purchase of 10 "salvaged" automobiles for about $109,900 from a car dealership in Alabama. The cars were brought to Pikeville "and apparently never titled to the town of Pikeville and, to my knowledge, never used for any of the town's business," he said.

Taylor noted that some of the vehicles probably didn't even run.

The second misconduct count alleges Johnson "caused a check to be issued" for almost $16,000 and then was simply "converted to his own use improperly," Taylor said.

The third count stems from monthly payments of more than $1,700 each that Johnson was getting to pay for health insurance when he already had health insurance from another source, the district attorney said.

"That amounted to several thousand dollars," Taylor said.

The fourth misconduct count comes from vehicle allowance checks written to Johnson for gas and travel "when in fact he did not use that money for that but converted it to his own use," he said.

The public money involved in the misconduct counts totals between $176,000 and $177,000, which accounts for the theft in excess of $60,000 charge, Taylor said. That count is a felony.

Taylor said criminal allegations involving public officials seem to be on the rise in his district.

"I've seen it, unfortunately, many times across the district," he said. "I just have to treat it the same as any other criminal case, but it does seem that in recent years we have had several instances of some form of official misconduct; some of it involving allegations of theft of public funds."

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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