Woman accused of embezzling from youth baseball association

A woman's alleged theft of $180K from a baseball group can be a warning to nonprofits

Case is another example of need for tighter controls by local nonprofits.

Renee K. Nichols, 46, faces charges of aggravated theft and tampering with records in connection with the alleged embezzlement of tens of thousands of dollars from the Springboro Clearcreek Baseball Association. She was arrested at 2:30 p.m. Monday at her home in Springboro, according to jail records.

She was granted a furlough from the Warren County Jail on Tuesday and is scheduled for arraignment today in Warren County Common Pleas Court.

RELATED: Initial reports on indictment of former Springboro youth sports league treasurer

Nichols is accused of stealing more than $180,000 from club accounts while serving as treasurer of the organization for youth softball and baseball teams in Springboro from 2011 until 2017, according to authorities. Investigators said Nichols used the money for personal spending, including a Disney vacation, personal credit card bill and other expenses.

The alleged embezzlement follows a 2013 case when a former Springboro Sports Boosters treasurer went to jail for stealing from that group. The nonprofit had its tax-exempt status stripped by the IRS, but later had it reinstated.

Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said his office and the Warren County Police Chiefs Association are offering training to local groups on ways to protect themselves against theft and other crimes. The training is from 7 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 24, in the Multipurpose Room of the Warren County Prosecutor’s Office.

A report the Ohio Attorney General’s Office makes available online — Avoiding Theft in Your Nonprofit — also offers steps groups can take to limit their exposure and protect their assets.

“Theft happens in large and small organizations, and often it involves individuals who are widely respected and valued within the organization,” the report says. “Often there is no rational explanation, other than perhaps greed. However, one thing is well-known: The number one contributing factor to theft is having access to the assets.”

The group’s troubles first came to light a year ago when a new board member, who is also a Certified Public Accountant, began looking into the organization’s finances and discovered no Form 990 had been filed with the IRS, outlining the group’s financial status, Fornshell said in his press release. Failing to file jeopardized the group’s tax-exempt status.

The IRS revoked the association’s non-profit tax exemption on May 15, 2017. A revocation was posted three months later, on Aug. 15, 2017, according to an IRS online database.

No reinstatement date was listed.

Board member David Meester told a WHIO-TV reporter Monday that the board first became aware of the missing money — which came from league fees from players — last spring. Members also became aware that vendors weren’t being paid, he said.

“It started from there,” he said. “We started digging into it a little bit more, noticing some things.”

The board then alerted authorities.

MORE: Springboro athletic boosters expect to recoup $440,000 stolen by treasurer

According to the prosecutor’s press release, Nichols “doctored bank records to hide the nature of the expenditures” when confronted about the alleged theft. Investigators also believe she destroyed or disposed of the laptop containing the association’s historical financial information, according to the press release.

The investigation identified more than 1,000 “improper expenditures,” the release says.

Fornshell said none of the missing money has been repaid. He did not respond to other questions about the case.

Meester emphasized in his interview with WHIO-TV that the organization has taken steps to protect itself.

“The grand jury’s recent indictment represents a year’s worth of close collaboration with the City of Springboro, Warren County, and the State of Ohio,” he said in a post on the group’s website. “During that time the league has put an entirely new executive board in place and formed a Finance & Audit committee that is solely focused on financial oversite and accountability.”

“We are encouraged by the community support and are excited to build on the great 2018 season and bring a stronger SCBA to the community next season,” he wrote.

The group is holding a question-and-answer session for league parents and the community at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Clearcreek Twp. Government Center.

“We’re looking to be stronger for the kids,” Meester said in the interview. ”We have nothing to hide.”

Springboro police released run sheets from Nichols’ arrest on Monday and Sept. 8, 2017, when there was a meeting at the police station regarding the alleged theft. Police declined to release any other reports and referred questions to Fornshell’s office.

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