Woman Faces Charges for Theft of Over $70K From Area Fire Department

| January 5, 2021

STRATTANVILLE BOROUGH, Pa. (EYT) – A Strattanville woman is facing multiple charges following an investigation into the theft of over $70,000.00 from an area fire department.

Court documents indicate the Clarion-based State Police filed criminal charges against 31-year-old Nichole Lynn Rawson.

Report of Unusual Activity

According to a criminal complaint, the investigation was initiated after an officer of the Strattanville Volunteer Fire Department advised police that he was informed by the department’s financial institution that there was unusual activity on the department’s accounts. The officer then provided the department’s records to the Clarion-based State Police for investigation.

The officer told police that all checks written from the department’s accounts are required to have two signatures on them, and he noticed there were several checks that only had one signature, and the signature was of the department’s treasurer, Nichole Rawson. The officer also related he noticed his own name was signed on several checks that he did not endorse or authorize, according to the complaint.

When asked about Rawson, the officer told police she had been treasurer for the department since 2015.

The officer also informed police that after receiving notification of the unusual activity, he began to review a few of the accounts, and discovered the truck fund account was short by $14,000.00 in 2019. He also noted some of the accounts were so low, the department had to cash in a CD in the amount of $83,890.12 to reimburse the truck fund account. There was also a loss of more than $11,000.00 from the general fund account between January 30, 2020, and February 5, 2020. He reported that when he became aware of the loss, Rawson was relieved of her ability to write checks and the department checkbooks were taken from her on February 6, 2020, the complaint states.

The officer told police that prior to Rawson being relieved of her check-writing ability, she had written a check out of the general fund for $3,000.00 for start-up money for Bingo and cashed it at an area bank. However, when the officer asked the department member who runs the Bingo games for the department how much money Rawson gave him for start-up for Bingo that night, he was told Rawson only provided $2,000.00, the complaint notes.

The officer informed police that when he spoke to the manager at one local financial institution about the unusual activity on some of the accounts, he was told that it appeared to be what is commonly referred to as “kiting.”

Kiting Defined

Kiting, also known as “paper hanging,” is a form of fraud defined as intentionally writing a check for an amount greater than the account balance from an account in one bank, then writing a check from another account in another bank, also with non-sufficient funds, with the second check serving to cover the non-existent funds from the first account. The purpose is to falsely inflate the balance of an account in order to allow written checks to clear that would otherwise bounce.

Circular kiting is an advanced form of kiting where multiple banks are utilized. The individual doing the kiting writes a check to themself from a first bank to a second bank, so the funds become available that day at the second bank to cover all checks due to clear, then the following date, the kiter writes another check from the second bank to themself and deposits it back in the first bank to provide artificial funds allowing the check they wrote the previous day to clear. The cycle then repeats until the kiter is caught or until they are able to deposit genuine funds.

Further Investigation

Police were then granted access to the financial records for all of the department’s accounts and an examination was conducted on the accounts.

According to the complaint, numerous checks were discovered written to Rawson herself and signed by Rawson only or written to cash and money directly withdrawn.

The investigators then met with officers of the Strattanville Volunteer Fire Department to discuss the checks and were informed that the reason for the checks being written was unclear. The investigators were also informed again that it is the policy of the department that all checks written are required to have two signatures, and Rawson was not given permission to cash checks with only one signature.

Further investigation identified seven checks with department officers’ names forged on them, all of which were endorsed by Rawson. The investigation also found numerous home bank transfers from the department accounts to Rawson’s bank account, as well as a joint account of Rawson and her husband. A search warrant was then requested and obtained for Rawson’s accounts, and the transfers were verified.

The investigators then met with department officers again to ask if Rawson was permitted to conduct home banking with the department’s accounts. The officers said they had no knowledge of this, and Rawson did not have permission to conduct business in this way, according to the complaint.

Additional Theft Reported

After being advised that she would no longer be permitted to perform treasurer duties for the department, Rawson submitted a letter of resignation for the office of Treasurer on March 5, 2020, with an effective date of March 7, 2020. Police were then notified by the department that on March 13, 2020, $900.00 was missing from a secured area in the office of the department. It was reported the money was placed in a bank bag and put in a secured cabinet after Bingo on March 5. Then, before Bingo on March 12, the money was discovered to be missing, according to the complaint.

A review of the department’s security camera showed Rawson entering the fire department social hall on March 10, 2020, around 2:30 a.m., using her cell phone light to walk across the social hall to the office. She then entered the secured office area and accessed the metal cabin that contained the safe and security camera controls. The camera showing the office area was then disconnected and stayed disconnected for approximately eight minutes before reconnecting. Rawson then left the building through the side entrance of the social hall, the complaint indicates.

Police were informed Rawson still possessed a key to the building and office area at the time of the incident.

Police then contacted Rawson via telephone and requested an interview with her regarding the information discovered regarding the fire department accounts. Rawson reportedly stated she would contact police with a date and time for an interview, but failed to do so, and failed to respond to further attempts to contact her, according to the complaint.

The complaint states that overall, Rawson took approximately $70,000.00 in funds from the Strattanville Volunteer Fire Department, as well as the additional $900.00 cash that was taken from the secured safety box at the Firehall.

Rawson was arraigned in front of Magisterial District Judge Duane L. Quinn at 11:11 a.m. on December 22, on the following charges:

– Forgery – Unauthorized Act In Writing, Felony 2 (seven counts)
– Unlawful Use of Computer – Access to Disrupt Function, Felony 3
– Theft By Deception-False Impression, Felony 3
– Identity Theft, Felony 3 (seven counts)
– Other Reason Access Device Is Unauthorized By Issuer, Felony 3
– Theft By Unlawful Taking-Movable Property

Unable to post $25,000.00 (10%) monetary bail, she was lodged in the Clarion County Jail.

She was released on December 28 on a cash security posted by a private surety.

A preliminary hearing scheduled for January 5 was continued and is scheduled to resume at 10:15 a.m. on February 16, with Judge Quinn presiding.

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