A former receptionist for Community Hospice of Modesto faces felony charges of embezzlement and grand theft.
Nicole Michelle Rush, 32, was arraigned on the charges July 7 in Stanislaus Superior Court. Rush is suspected of stealing up to $25,000 in donation checks sent to the nonprofit hospice.
According to a complaint, the hospice employee embezzled the money between November 2014 and February 2016. Rush was arrested June 6 following a Sheriff’s Department investigation, and the district attorney filed the charges June 28.
Rush, who was released on bail, did not enter a plea in court. She was given time to retain an attorney and is due back in court Sept. 26.
Authorities said Community Hospice, headquartered on Spyres Way in north Modesto, noticed a problem with missing donation checks from 2014 and contacted law enforcement.
Sheriff’s Detective Bob Berndt began an investigation in December and determined many checks were stolen, from small donations to $500 or more. Rush deposited money from the stolen checks in her account, authorities said.
The receptionist was identified as a suspect in February and immediately fired, said hospice Chief Executive Officer DeSha McLeod. It took four additional months before the investigation was completed.
McLeod said the hospice first suspected a problem when donors said they did not receive an acknowledgment of their contributions. Representatives talked with the U.S. Postal Service about possible mail theft and were told to contact police.
Community Hospice said it was able to recover the donations because the bank used by Rush provided compensation for the loss. The hospice has not informed the public about the embezzlement case, but its executive board was kept informed about the investigation, McLeod said.
“We did not feel like it was necessary,” McLeod said, “since we have changed our internal controls and full restitution was made by the bank. We feel we have corrected the problem.”
The organization’s accountant advised the hospice on changing internal controls, she said.
Rush has previous convictions for driving under the influence in 2003 and 2010. She did not return a phone message left with a family member Wednesday.
The stolen money represents a small percentage of Community Hospice’s $1.4 million in annual foundation income.
An executive with a statewide association for nonprofit agencies said she was saddened to hear about employee theft in a hospice organization. Jan Masaoka, chief executive officer of the California Association of Nonprofits, said any organization in the public or private sector is capable of hiring a dishonest employee. She advises nonprofits to notify supporters if significant theft occurs.
“I think too often a nonprofit decides to keep it quiet because they think it makes them look bad,” Masaoka said. “It is important to let the donors and constituents know what happened and what is being done to prevent it from happening again. That is a better choice than deciding to keep it quiet and have it come out another way.”
Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321