Local firefighter charged with embezzling federal grant money from recruitment program

Local News

BLAIR COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — A former Hollidaysburg Volunteer Fire Department firefighter has been charged with embezzling more than $1.5 million from a local firefighter recruitment program.

According to reports, Benjamin Rhine of Duncansville had embezzled federally-funded grant money through FEMA that had been provided to the Allegheny Mountain Firefighter Initiative for training volunteer firefighters as well as equipment to volunteer fire companies in Blair and neighboring counties.

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 spokesman for the program told WTAJ in 2017 that the program was a success and 15 of the 30 departments involved were able to meet or exceed their goal of adding at least 10 new members.

The fire company’s president, David Zeek said Rhine was no longer with the Phoenix Volunteer Fire Department when the crimes were committed.

Rhine allegedly embezzled the funds from April of 2013 to June of 2017 as well as reported no taxable income to the IRS on his tax returns for three years. He now reportedly owes over $300,000 in income taxes.

“Instead of utilizing the FEMA grant for its intended purpose, Mr. Rhine took it upon himself to help himself to money that did not belong to him,” said IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Thomas Fattorusso. “Those who illegally target government grants for personal financial gain, run the risk of criminal prosecution and lengthy prison sentences.”

The federal government has charged the former firefighter with one count of misappropriation of federal funds and three other counts of embezzled income. Rhine appeared in federal court Friday morning where he submitted a guilty plea.

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