Police investigate missing funds at Philipsburg’s Reliance Fire Company

Reliance Fire Company No. 1 in Philipsburg.
Reliance Fire Company No. 1 in Philipsburg. Centre Daily Times

A Philipsburg volunteer fire company appears to be the victim of forgery, police said.

According to state police at Philipsburg, a known male wrote 35 checks to himself between Jan. 28 and March 25. The checks were drawn on the Reliance Fire Company checking account and totaled $14,496.95.

Police said the perpetrator forged signatures on the checks.

Reliance President Dave Mollura said it is more complicated than that.

A financial officer with the company, whom he declined to name due to the ongoing nature of the case, allegedly wrote more $17,000 in checks, some to himself, some to cash. The loss wasn’t noticed right away because the checks were supposed to be written. They were to be written to cover the company’s bills.

“This has put us into a very serious financial situation,” said Mollura, who became aware of the missing money in March, when the company received a shutoff notice for their electricity. That was when he said they realized the money wasn’t the only thing missing. The mail was being taken, too, to hide the overdue notices for roughly $15,000 in unpaid bills.

Mollura said the person claims about $4,900 was repaid. Some of the money was put back in cash, but some was put back in a $600 check, which bounced. Mollura put the current figure for the loss at $11,973 in missing funds, plus costs for bank fees, late fees from creditors and other related expenses.

“I’ve been a member of this company since I was 16 years old,” Mollura said. “I’ve held every office. Nothing like this has ever happened.”

The company is bonded, and he says the department will get back the missing money.

The hard part will be getting by until the insurance pays out. The firetrucks roll to about 30 emergencies a month, and that takes about $1,900 in fuel. Outfitting one firefighter costs more than $12,000, Mollura said.

“We’re going to hold on as long as we can,” said Mollura, but the firemen are resorting to emergency fundraising in the meantime, with boot drives, car washes and pleas for help.

The case is the latest in a string of incidents where funds have been misappropriated from various Centre County agencies or businesses.

In 2013, Teresa Horton, of Bellefonte, pleaded guilty to taking $37,000 from the Philipsburg-Osceola wrestling boosters, and Doris Conner received two years probation for charging $17,000 in personal expenses to the Centre County United Way credit card.

In 2014, Dorothea Bird was charged with taking $30,000 from M&T Bank on Allen Street. Kelly Jo McMurtrie is set to enter a guilty plea on April 24 on charges she wrote $11,000 in checks to herself from November 2012 to November 2013 while the treasurer with Centre County Affordable Housing Coalition.

Former Penns Valley High School athletic director Donald Hosterman has been charged with misdemeanor counts of theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property, which will go to formal arraignment Wednesday, while an investigation continues into his potential involvement in the disappearance of more than $20,000 belonging to the Mountain League.