A former treasurer has been charged with the theft of nearly $130,000 from the Hershey Volunteer Fire Department.
Thaddeus Lee Austin, 30, of Hershey, allegedly began taking fire department funds for his own use shortly after he was elected to the treasurer position in January 2012, Derry Township police said in a news release Friday.
Police said evidence in the case suggests that Austin wrote fire department checks to himself, opened a personal debit card account on a department bank account, and manipulated services for personal benefit from department vendors.
Investigators said they also found that Austin satisfied several personal debts and opened new credit accounts for himself while serving as treasurer.
"Using a debit card issued in the company's name for purchases at
Walmart, fast food stores, gas as well as other sizeable transactions
dealing with personal purchases," said Dave Stough, president of the Hershey Volunteer Fire Company.
The theft totaling $129,863.67 was uncovered after bank investigators in March detected unusual activity with the fire department's accounts and notified a department official, police said.
Austin was then confronted about the activity.
"The evening of the phone call, I approached the treasurer and he
immediately resigned and a police investigation ensued the next day," Stough said.
Police said the bank had sent written notification of the suspicious activity prior to March, but Austin received and concealed the notifications from organization leaders.
Austin was arraigned Friday on counts of theft by deception and theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received. He was then sent to Dauphin County Prison on $60,000 bail.
Stough said the department has taken steps to secure its finances, and has since implemented more stringent financial controls.
"We take some of that responsibility for not tightening the controls.
But believe me, we will in the future be tightening those controls," he said.
He said the department is fully insured for the loss, and will be working with its carrier to recover the missing sums in the near term.
"He was truly one of our own," Stough said. "There's a lot of hurt at the personal level, as well."
The department is about to start a fundraising campaign for renovations to its antiquated fire station. Stough said he hopes the community will keep
its support and faith in the department.