Ex-Hollidaysburg firefighter sentenced for $1.5 million use of FEMA funds

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CAMBRIA COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — A Duncansville man was sentenced in federal court on his conviction of conversion of government funds and filing false tax refunds.

In 2020, former Hollidaysburg volunteer firefighter, Benjamin Rhine, was accused of embezzling federally-funded grant money through FEMA. The grant money had been provided to the Allegheny Mountain Firefighter Initiative for training volunteer firefighters and providing equipment.

Rhine had served as Grant Coordinator at the Firefighter Initiative for four years where there were 1,000 applications and 300 newly trained volunteers.

The 49-year-old received and converted the funds falsely for his own use between April 2013 and June 2017, according to information presented in the court.

Rhine received and converted falsely to his own use a total of $1,590,257 in FEMA grant money, with payments made to him to which he was not entitled. Additionally, from 2015 to 2017, Rhine filed Income Tax Return Form 1040 reporting that he had no taxable income, according to the Department of Justice.

Rhine knowingly refused to report his taxable income which was $103,626 in 2014, $138,115 in 2015 and $60,157 in 2016, according to the court.

“Benjamin Rhine’s greed overtook his good sense. Massive thefts of government funds will be prosecuted aggressively,” U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Kaufman said.

Rhine was sentenced to 46 months in prison and three years of supervised release.

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