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Once-rising star in local GOP sent to prison

A once-rising star in the Republican Party and a candidate for state Superintendent of Public Instruction at the age of 25 was sentenced to three years in prison Wednesday after he pleaded guilty in Polk County Superior Court to three felony counts of obtaining property by false pretense and a felony count of writing and passing a worthless check, District Attorney Greg Newman announced.

Josiah "Joe" Johnson, 36, of Tryon, was sentenced earlier today to 38 months in prison on the charges, which were just the latest involving Johnson and his finances. A graduate of East Henderson High School, Johnson was the Republican nominee for state school superintendent in 2008, losing to incumbent June Atkinson. Johnson also has served as director of public affairs for the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office under Rick Davis, for Western Carolina Produce and as director of resource development for the Henderson County Council on Aging.

Johnson obtained three personal loans totaling $60,000 from Tryon resident Nancy Day, who had been friends with Johnson’s mother for many years. Johnson told her that he needed a short-term loan to secure a home for his mother in Charleston, S.C.  He agreed to pay Day back when funds from a trust fund could be released and at double the interest that her bank was paying to her. 

Repayment did not occur and Johnson made multiple excuses for the delays. Day filed a lawsuit to secure a judgment against Johnson.  She was granted a judgment, but had been unable to collect any of her money from him. In 2016, Tryon police officer Theda Rickman presented the case to Newman, who advised her to charge Johnson.

In 2014, a jury in Buncombe County found Johnson guilty of charges of writing a worthless check for $18,000 to a furniture store.  He has recently been convicted of defrauding two car dealerships in Buncombe County and Henderson County detectives are investigating additional incidents of alleged fraud by Johnson, the district attorney's office said.

“I appreciate Nancy Day for her courage to come forward in this case," Newman said. "She has expressed to me personally that she feels completely betrayed by Mr. Johnson.  She thinks he used the good name of his mother to secure money and he is apparently very convincing when seeking funds for various projects. I further commend the police work by Theda Rickman of the Tryon Police and my assistant prosecutors, Bob Brackett and J.J. Sauve, who prepared the prosecution of the case."