Nickley sentenced to jail time

By Christina O'Haver, The Union Democrat April 30, 2013 12:30 pm

A former Columbia Fire Protection District chief who pleaded guilty in February to misappropriation of public funds surrendered himself in Tuolumne County Superior Court on Monday.

Randall Allan Nickley, 51, was sentenced Friday to six months in Tuolumne County Jail followed by 60 days of electronic monitoring. He will also be on probation for five years.

Additionally, Judge Eric DuTemple ordered Nickley to pay $6,012 in restitution.

District Attorney Mike Knowles said Monday that Nickley had paid the amount, which was the minimum Knowles requested. 

Knowles said $6,012 was the amount of public money traced directly back to Nickley, but added that many of the fire department’s purchases are unaccounted for due to poor-record keeping by the agency. 

Defense Attorney Vangie Eidsvik-Garza, of Coulterville, said at Friday’s hearing that Nickley served the department “honorably” and “steadily” for years and owned up to his mistake.

Knowles said the real “heartbreaker” was that when Columbia’s volunteer firefighters turned down their stipends to sustain the financially struggling agency, Nickley collected their shares for himself. 

“It’s just an ugly situation that he certainly took advantage of,” Knowles said.

Eidsvik-Garza reminded the court that Nickley has health problems. He is currently undergoing chemotherapy and might need bypass surgery, she said. 

DuTemple noted that Nickley can receive treatment while incarcerated. 

“I can see where someone gets involved in tough financial situations and makes a bad decision,” DuTemple said. He added, however, that it was hard to overlook that the financial misconduct occurred over a “lengthy” time period. 

According to court documents, Nickley misused public funds between January 2007 and June 2011.

An internal investigation of Nickley began when the district Board of Directors placed Nickley on administrative leave in June 2011 after receiving complaints that he responded to a call with alcohol on his breath. 

According to court documents, the fire department received a check for $27,616 from the Lyle R. Scott Revocable Trust in October 2007. The funds were intended solely for life-saving equipment that would be placed on the department’s trucks. 

In November 2007, Nickley deposited the check into an unreported account and “almost immediately” began writing checks to himself and his wife, the documents said. 

Nickley was arrested on Aug. 23, 2012, on a felony warrant at his home on the 11300 block of McKellar Drive and booked into Tuolumne County Jail, where he posted $20,000 bail.

The District Attorney’s Office charged Nickley with one felony count each of misappropriation and embezzlement of public funds.

He entered an open plea at his trial readiness conference, vacating his March 13 trial date.