COLUMBIA (CBS13) – A former fire chief is accused of embezzling cash and equipment from the fire district he ran. Investigators say they don’t know just how much he got away with, and may never know.
Prosecutors say Randall Nickley was the only one keeping the records. He ran a small fire department with no oversight, so he alone was trusted to manage the money, and his accusers say he took thousands.
This former fire chief is now feeling the heat himself, accused of using public money for his own personal gain.
“Completely out of the blue; everybody always thought he was a good guy and did a good job running the department,” said Columbia resident Ryan Canutt.
The Tuolomne County district attorney filed charges against Nickley, who was the former chief of the tiny Colombia Fire Protection District between 2007 and 2011. He said Nickley bought gifts for relatives using public money and gave them loans that were never paid back.
Nickley allegedly used district funds to buy computers and fire equipment that have gone missing. The D.A.’s office says state money is similarly nowhere to be found.
“It wasn’t his money to give away or to give to his relatives, so he definitely has to pay for that,” said Caitlin Bellah, one of Nickley’s neighbors.
The sheriff’s department began investigating after someone in the volunteer fire district complained.
On certain fire calls, the firefighters are paid, but the D.A.’s office says they were donating their stipends back to help out the district. According to authorities, former Chief Nickley was collecting that money for himself.
We wanted to know what he had to say for himself, but nobody at Nickley’s Sonora home came to the door.
The D.A.’s office says more than $5,000 was misused or embezzled. But again, because Nickley was in charge of record keeping, prosecutors say we may never know the exact amount.
Nickley is currently out on bail, and is due in court next week.