Pink Collar Theft in Pennsylvania Fire Company

The treasurer of a Pennsylvania fire company has been charged with stealing over $70,000 from the company. Nichole Lynn Rawson, 31, is facing eighteen criminal charges. She was the treasurer of the Strattanville Volunteer Fire Department.

Rawson is charged with:

  • 7 Counts of Forgery – Unauthorized Act In Writing
  • 7 Counts of Identity Theft
  • Unlawful Use of Computer – Access to Disrupt Function
  • Theft By Deception-False Impression
  • Other Reason Access Device Is Unauthorized By Issuer
  • Theft By Unlawful Taking-Movable Property

Fire company officials were first alerted to a problem when they were contacted by bank officials who noticed “unusual activity.” Upon investigation, the fire company noticed several accounts were short funds. The fire company restricted Rawson’s ability to write checks and removed the department checkbooks from her possession.

About a month later the fire company informed her she would not be allowed to perform the duties of treasurer, at which point she resigned. The fire company then contacted the Pennsylvania State Police requesting an investigation.

Here is an excellent news article explaining how Rawson was able to carry out her scheme. The solutions have not changed:

  • All financial account statements should be mailed to someone OTHER THAN a person who can sign checks/use credit cards
  • Those financial accounts should be reviewed each month to ensure that all expenses were appropriate. The person (or preferably the committee) who does the reconciliation must not include anyone with spending authority
  • Require 2 signatures on large checks
  • No checks written to cash, to the person who signed the check, or to a family member of the person who signed the check
  • No signing of blank checks in advance
  • Periodic outside audit
  • Additional safe guards are needed for fire departments that handle cash

The goal here is deterrence: make sure your department does not look like an easy mark! Basing your financial controls on how burdensome they are to a potential thief is ridiculous. So is trying to spot a thief before the theft occurs. Prevention must be the priority over convenience.

For those interested in learning more about this kind of theft, often referred to as Pink Collar Crime, my friend Kelly Paxton just released her book Embezzlement. It is available on Amazon for just $9.99 on Kindle or $19.95 for a hard copy. Besides being packed with good information, it is a good read – highly entertaining.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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