Convention Bureau Employee Pleads Guilty to All Charges Related to Embezzlement
The former finance director at the Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureau (meetNKY) pleaded guilty Tuesday to all charges related to an embezzlement of more than $1 million from the tourism agency.
The actual amount of money stolen from meetNKY is more than $4 million. In fact, it's $4,049,421.14, Kenton County Commonwealth's Attorney Rob Sanders told The River City News on Tuesday.
Bridget Johnson, 59, appeared in Kenton Circuit Court on Tuesday afternoon and pleaded guilty to theft by unlawful taking of more than $1 million, abuse of the public trust of more than $100,000, and first degree unlawful access to a computer.
Johnson was fired from her position in October of last year following her arrest on these charges.
It was later revealed that she systematically sent thirteen checks totaling $1,125,000 to a man who operates wireless stores in New York City. That man, Keith Tasher, 42, was arrested earlier this year in the Bahamas and is now in the Kenton County Detention Center on charges of theft by unlawful taking of more than $1 million and engaging in organized crime.
He is being held on $1 million bond.
Tasher operates All Star Wireless, All Star Wireless 3, and Simple Wireless in New York City. According to the charges, Tasher received the thirteen checks from the convention and visitors bureau, sent by Johnson, but had no legal reason to receive them.
Tasher is scheduled to appear in court on December 3.
Johnson faces 50 years in prison.
She will be sentenced on December 17.
The River City News has reached out to the spokesperson for meetNKY for comment, but the organization declined, saying that it would wait until sentencing.
Sanders said that Johnson was originally a victim in this case, but then became involved in a theft ring.
It all started on Match.com, a website that connects singles looking for romantic partners.
Johnson connected with a profile purportedly belonging to an unidentified businessman from Fort Thomas. Through their online interactions, Johnson hit it off with the man, who never met her in person, citing his busy schedule. But, the unidentified man claimed, he was working on a significant business deal, and just needed some additional funding to close on it. The fake business, Sanders said, was allegedly related to diamonds and gems.
Once that would be complete, the man told Johnson, he could return to Northern Kentucky and they could be together.
"She was a victim of one of the largest thefts we've ever seen in Kenton County," Sanders said.
That's because Johnson sent the man roughly $250,000 of her own money.
When the man requested more, and her own resources were tapped out, she reached into the tourism agency's public funds.
"She started dipping into the convention and visitors bureau funds in the hopes that if she just sent a little more, she would get that money back and her own money back," Sanders said.
But neither the agency's nor Johnson's money was ever invested in a business deal sought by a Fort Thomas businessman.
The identity of that man is still unknown, Sanders said, but the investigation is ongoing. Right now, investigators are having difficulty when the trail leads them to China where grand jury subpoenas and search warrants are not being honored.
So far, only Johnson and Tasher are facing charges in the case.
"That's where we lose track of the ability to follow the bank account," Sanders said of China. "We've got wire transfers that from a bank account to other conspirators and those other conspirators are overseas either in China, or in a European country where the money is then sent to China."
Tasher is an example of that, Sanders said.
"Tasher sends the money on. He keeps a cut for himself," Sanders said of the accused middleman. "I will say the middlemen take a cut of whatever money they receive from Ms. Johnson and they forward the money on to the people responsible for conning Ms. Johnson."
Meanwhile, the investigation is ongoing, Sanders said. "I have confidence we will identify more of the middle men. I am hopeful that someday we can figure out who the actual scam artist was but that is a much different undertaking than identifying the middlemen," he said.
"Whoever this was is very sophisticated. It was an elaborate scam, and whoever was responsible was very skilled in not putting themselves in the paper trail, hence the use of the middlemen."
Written Michael Monks and Connor Wall for The River City News