Comptroller says Rhea County man took from charity to fix up his El Camino

  • In US
  • 2021-11-30 05:01:00Z
  • By Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Tenn.

Nov. 30-A local man used almost $12,000 in funds taken from a Dayton, Tennessee, nonprofit organization to purchase vehicle parts for a private business and a vintage vehicle he was restoring, according to allegations in a Tennessee Comptroller's Office investigative report.

According to a news release from the comptroller's office, state investigators allege former maintenance technician Reynaldo Rivera, 57, of Dayton, used at least $11,871 in funds from the group, Rhea of Sunshine, for his personal use.

"For example, Rivera purchased multiple parts for a Chevrolet El Camino, which he was personally restoring," the release states. The investigation also alleged Rivera misused the nonprofit's tax-exempt certificate when he made personal purchases and failed to pay at least $1,157 in sales taxes, officials said.

Rhea of Sunshine Inc. - a nonprofit that provides programs for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and is primarily supported by public funds from the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities - owns multiple homes and vehicles to help serve its clients, according to officials. Rhea of Sunshine staff members are responsible for maintenance and repairs.

According to investigators, Rivera used the nonprofit's O'Reilly Auto Parts and Advance Auto Parts vendor accounts to purchase the parts for his personal vehicles and his private automotive repair business. Court records state the thefts took place between Oct. 1, 2015 and Nov. 13, 2018.

Rhea of Sunshine Executive Director Michelle Cunningham Fisher told the Times Free Press on Monday in a telephone interview the allegations go back to previous management of the nonprofit organization and the parties involved are no longer with the agency.


Rivera admitted to purchasing vehicle parts for his personal use without the knowledge of his supervisor and resigned from his position on Jan. 23, 2019, prior to the start of the investigation, authorities said.

Rivera was indicted in the probe in June 2021 on one count of theft over $10,000, records show.

Rivera could not be reached for comment Monday. Circuit court officials said Monday that Rivera has no lawyer on record and faces a Circuit Court appearance Dec. 10. He was freed Nov. 16 on a $5,000 bond, according to officials at the Rhea County Jail.


"All Tennessee nonprofits, and especially ones receiving public money, must ensure they are taking steps to prevent fraud, waste and abuse," Tennessee Comptroller Jason Mumpower said in the news release. "While our investigators found several deficiencies in this case, a major problem was allowing the former maintenance technician to order, charge and accept delivery of auto parts without sufficient review of invoices."

Fisher said all the deficiencies noted in the report were addressed and corrected in 2019. She said the comptroller's report doesn't reflect the change of management since the investigation began.

"Since I've been director we've received clean financial audits every year," Fisher told the Times Free Press.

"We don't have anything to hide."

In its most recent publicly available , for 2017, Rhea of Sunshine lists about $2.4 million in revenue and $2.6 million in expenses.

Contact Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.


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