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Businessman pleads guilty to sex charge

Restaurateur, masseuse facing up to 18 months

WARREN — A Warren Township man who owns a Mineral Ridge restaurant and massage business on Thursday pleaded guilty to an amended charge dealing with paying a minor to engage in sex.

Joel Johnson, 42, 4705 Parkman Road NW, Warren, appeared with his attorney Robert Shaker before Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge Ronald J. Rice, who will sentence him after he undergoes a background investigation from the adult probation department.

He faces up to 18 months in prison. Assistant Prosecutor Gabriel Wildman said Johnson at sentencing would be labeled a Tier 2 sexual offender, which would require him to register his address with the sheriff twice per year for 25 years.

Johnson, who owns Pho Viez restaurant on state Route 46, was named in a June secret indictment charging him with a March 8, 2017, offense in which authorities accused him of paying a minor to engage in sex. Wildman said the female victim was being prostituted out of Mahoning County by a man who is now facing federal charges.

Johnson, who also provided massages to Trumbull County employees, has been free after posting a $10,000 bond. He has no previous criminal record in Trumbull County.

Rich Jackson, head of the Trumbull County Human Resources Department, said Johnson was brought in on three occasions to provide massages to those who signed up for one in the commissioners hearing room on a massage table he provided. Jackson said Johnson called the county to ask if he could provide the massages, after a wellness committee recommended the county offer something like that for employees. It is unclear how Johnson knew the county was interested in bringing someone in to conduct massages.

No background check was conducted on Johnson before he was brought in to massage the office employees. He came in three times, in January, April and May of 2017.

Employees were required to pay for the massages themselves, the county didn’t foot the bill and the insurance didn’t cover it, Jackson said. The cost was $15 for 15 minutes, he said.

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