Ex-Lebanon Arts Council head seeking alternative to felony conviction

The former president of the now defunct Arts Council of Lebanon has filed a motion asking the court to allow her to avoid felony conviction for alleged embezzlement of the group’s funds.

Rochelle L. Collins, 46, of Lebanon, is accused of theft of more than $6,800 from the organization from March 2018 to February 2019.

She is asking for “intervention in lieu of conviction.” This is a program that allows people charged with certain crimes to have the charges dismissed if they complete treatment for substance abuse or mental issues.

Collins led the revival of the Arts Council of Lebanon in 2016. The group promoted arts throughout Warren County and was formerly known as the Warren County Arts Council.

“She was doing some great things,” said Larry Stone, past president and a founder of the group.

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Collins’ lawyer, Ed Perry, could not be reached for comment.

In the motion, Perry stated that Collins qualified for the diversion because she had no prior felony conviction and was willing to waive any rights to a “speedy trial.”

In addition, Collins would accept “all terms and conditions,” including “an intervention plan requiring (her) to abstain from the use of alcohol and illegal drugs and to submit to regular random testing,” as well as treatment, according to the motion.

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Collins allegedly withdrew money from the council’s bank account and misused a debit card. This happened “shortly after” the group’s treasurer resigned and she became “sole custodian” of the business records, Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said.

She is charged with one count of theft “beyond the scope of the express consent of the owner or person authorized to give consent,” a fifth-degree felony.

The amount taken includes at least $5,704 in ATM withdrawals and $1,161 in debit card purchases at businesses including UDF, Kroger and Whole Foods, Fornshell said at the time of her indictment in July.

“There were numerous other transactions that were highly questionable,” Fornshell said.

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The council board “violated two of the cardinal rules” by failing to ensure that two people shared oversight of the funds and issuing her a debit card, Fornshell added.

The alleged embezzlement and Collins’ departure apparently put the arts council out of existence. The Thimble Gardens business next door has expanded into the council’s former offices on East Mulberry Street in downtown Lebanon.

“I don’t hate her. I’m just disappointed,” Stone said last week.

Fornshell declined to comment on the motion for intervention in lieu of conviction.

Collins was never booked into the county jail and remained free last week on her own recognizance.

A hearing on the motion is scheduled for Oct. 15 in Warren County Common Pleas Court.

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