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Judge to ex-Springboro youth sports treasurer: Pay $175K or go to prison

Ex-Springboro Clearcreek Baseball Association Treasurer Renee Nichols as she left court after being placed on probation for embezzling $175,000 from the group. Nichols faces a three-year prison term if unable to make full restitution. STAFF/LAWRENCE BUDD
Ex-Springboro Clearcreek Baseball Association Treasurer Renee Nichols as she left court after being placed on probation for embezzling $175,000 from the group. Nichols faces a three-year prison term if unable to make full restitution. STAFF/LAWRENCE BUDD

The former treasurer of the Springboro Clearcreek Baseball Association was placed on probation Tuesday and faces a three-year prison sentence if she is unable to make $175,000 in restitution of money embezzled from the group.

Judge Donald Oda II sentenced Renee Nichols, now 47, of Springboro, for aggravated theft after she agreed during the hearing in Warren County Common Pleas Court to make a $300 first payment.

Oda and league officials expressed doubt Nichols would make full restitution.

League Treasurer Terry Townsend also said the $175,000 was the “tip of the iceberg” and that it was likely she embezzled much more from the group while serving as group treasurer.

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“We’re prepared to move on without it,” association President Dave Meester said after the hearing.

Nichols, who has already served more than 180 days in jail while the case was pending, will remain free for at least another 60 days.

“I’m willing to do whatever I have to. I want the opportunity to prove the type of person I actually am,” Nichols said.

Nichols had been unable to post a $750,000 cash-only bond set last October by Oda after a dispute over her return to jail after a medical furlough.

On Tuesday, Oda told Nichols he would bring her back to court after 60 days to see how well she was doing with the restitution and decide whether to send her to prison.

“I think that’s ultimately where this case is going to end up,” Oda said.

Oda told Nichols she stayed in jail previously because “you never took responsibility” for the embezzlement and warned her she would be sent to prison if she failed to “pay this money back.”

Nichols also agreed to turn over the full lump-sum payment from a disability settlement, due to health problems, she recently received. Rather than disability, Oda had indicated he had wanted Nichols to look for a job.

Nichols was arrested in October 2018 at her home in Springboro.

The Springboro Clearcreek Baseball Association’s money troubles first came to light a year before when Townsend began looking into the organization’s finances and discovered no Form 990 had been filed with the IRS, outlining the group’s financial status.

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The IRS revoked the association’s nonprofit tax exemption on May 15, 2017. The group’s status has been reinstated by the IRS.

On Tuesday, Townsend and Meester said the group delayed replacement of equipment and field maintenance and kept the league going through fees and revenues from concessions.

Nichols is also in domestic relations court and bankruptcy. Her lawyer, Laura Woodruff, said Nichols’ family was in “financial distress” during the time of the embezzlement.

Woodruff urged Oda not to send to send Nichols to prison, in part in hopes of repairing her relationship with her daughter.

Assistant County Prosecutor Carrie Heisele urged Oda to send Nichols to prison, pointing to her use of the money for personal expenses, including a family vacation, and attempt to hide the stolen money.

In a league statement, Townsend urged Nichols to “spend the rest of your life trying to make this right.”

But he said Nichols was unlikely to come up with the money with a felony on her record and “limited work experience”.

Townsend said Nichols “never turned over a single record,” leading him to suspect the amount taken was much larger than $175,000 figure set in the sentencing.

“The details of this are infuriating,” Townsend said.