Ex-fire chief prelim slated

By Alex MacLean, The Union Democrat

Columbia Fire Protection District's former chief pleaded not guilty Wednesday to embezzling nearly $5,000 from the district.

Randall Allan Nickley, 50, of Sonora, appeared in Tuolumne County Superior Court for arraignment on two felony counts accusing him of stealing money from a public fund established for purchasing firefighting equipment and other needs.

A preliminary examination was also scheduled. Nickley's attorney initially opposed it, saying prosecutors hadn't provided all the evidence she requested.

Attorney Vangie Eidsvik-Garza, of Coulterville, told Assigned Superior Court Judge Edward Forstenzer that District Attorney Michael Knowles gave her a disc supposed to contain some of the items she requested and wanted more time to review it.

"I asked to continue this for about a week at the District Attorney's and court's discretion so I can go through new discovery and see if this should even go to prelim," she said.

Knowles asked that the preliminary examination be set within 10 days from Wednesday's hearing.

"We will gleefully ask the court to set a prelim in the next 10 days and we'll be ready to go," he said. "This is a probable cause hearing and full discovery is not required."

Both sides ended up agreeing to set the preliminary examination for Nov. 28 after some discussion.

Nickley, who was hired as fire chief in December 2002, is accused of taking money from an account set up for firefighters to use at their discretion for certain needs. The account is separate from fire district's general fund and not reported to the county.

According to court documents, Nickley deposited a check for $27,616.62, donated by the Lyle R. Scott Revocable Trust, into the unreported account in October 2007 and began writing personal checks.

He later admitted to investigators that a $2,000 check was a personal loan to his wife for covering debts from her previous marriage and another $1,100 check was for a security deposit payment on his house, the court documents state.

Nickley is also accused of writing a $500 check, but he wasn't able to remember what that was for, the documents showed.

Also, Nickley overpaid himself about $1,100 in monthly stipends, even after the district board of directors voted to reduce the stipends and firefighters agreed to divert their shares to the district's general fund, according to the documents.

The alleged misconduct was discovered by the board of directors through an internal investigation after they received complaints Nickley responded to a call-for-service with alcohol on his breath and placed him on administrative leave in June 2011, board President Stan Steiner told The Union Democrat in late August.

Nickley was arrested Aug. 23 on a felony warrant at his home on the 11300 block of McKellar Drive. Prior to his arrest, sheriff's detectives searched his home and uncovered various pieces of equipment and electronics belonging to the Columbia Fire Protection District that were never returned, court documents said.

The Union Democrat
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