DOBSON — Surry County Commissioner Paul Johnson has pleaded guilty to four felony charges.
In an unscheduled appearance in Superior Court Tuesday, Johnson entered a guilty plea for all four counts of obtaining property by false pretense.
The charges stem from a State Bureau of Investigation probe into the travel vouchers of Surry County officials.
Johnson was indicted by a grand jury in February. Accused of falsifying travel documents to the tune of more than $4,000 in taxpayer funds, Johnson remained on the Surry County Board of Commissioners and maintained his innocence.
Following the indictment, Johnson’s colleagues removed him from all committee assignments.
Noelle Talley, spokesperson for the North Carolina Attorney General’s office, which has handled the prosecution of the case, confirmed swirling rumors of the guilty plea Wednesday.
Additionally, Talley said Johnson had yet to be sentenced. She said that hearing will take place on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.
Talley said that Johnson’s plea was entered in an open session of court. However, the court transcript was sealed at the request of Johnson’s defense attorney, Scott Lowry.
Talley was unable to provide any specific terms of a plea agreement which may have been reached, adding the agreement would be most easily attained at the Clerk of Courts office.
Surry County Clerk of Courts Teresa O’Dell would not provide a copy of the agreement or comment on Tuesday’s court proceedings when questioned on Wednesday.
Surry County Board of Elections Director Susan Jarrell said Johnson may not be able to hold public office.
“Under North Carolina law a person is not eligible to hold an office for which that person is not eligible to vote,” Jarrell summarized.
Per North Carolina statute, a person convicted of a felony loses his or her right to vote and does not regain that right until after all conditions of the associated sentence, including probation and parole periods, have been reached.
Thus, if Johnson is sentenced to a period of incarceration or probation he would no longer be eligible to hold the office of county commissioner.
Jarrell said ballots for the March primary, in which Johnson faces opposition from Pilot Mountain resident Van Tucker, have already been printed. She said if Johnson is indeed not eligible to hold office votes for him would not be counted, and Tucker would be victorious by default.
Johnson and Lowry could not be reached for comment.
Board Chairman R.F. “Buck” Golding said he had not received any sort of letter of resignation from Johnson Wednesday evening.
He said if Johnson is forced to vacate the office he holds, the board of commissioners will eventually choose a replacement.
“My understanding is that the Republican Executive Committee can make a recommendation,” said Golding. “Then the board (of commissioners) can accept that recommendation or fill the office with somebody else.”
Andy is a staff writer for The News and can be reached at (336) 415-4698.