Former executive director accused of stealing $40K from Baker County nonprofit

Lea Rhoden faces 4 different felony charges, including grand theft & scheme to defraud

A woman who ran a Baker County nonprofit is now accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars from it.

MACCLENNY, Fla. – A woman who ran a Baker County nonprofit is now accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars from it.

According to the Baker County Sheriff’s Office, Lea Rhoden, 42, is charged with four different felonies: grand theft, scheme to defraud, fraudulent use of a credit card and forgery.

Rhoden turned herself in Tuesday and bonded out of the Baker County jail on Wednesday.

Investigators said they found evidence that Rhoden stole roughly $40,000 from Baker Prevention Coalition, a local group focused on drug abuse prevention where she served as executive director for the past five years. She was one of two paid staffers.

Court documents show the group’s current executive director launched an internal audit of financial records going back to 2018. She told investigators that Rhoden spent coalition funds on personal items, ranging from pool noodles and pet food to car speakers and light kits, according to court records. The court documents state that Rhoden offered to write a check for $40,000 to cover the expenses, but the group rejected the offer.

Nearby locals were shocked by the allegations.

“Oh, my God. I just can’t believe people today. There are thieves born every minute, and to take something from the people of this county, it’s horrific and it’s shameless, shameless,” said Baker County resident Shirley Moffitt. “Crazy, I mean, did not expect that. I mean, I’ve worked with them since my ninth grade year in high school, so it’s pretty crazy.”

“This is supposed to be an organization to help the community. That’s wrong,” said Clay County resident Shayla Miller. “You’re supposed to be giving back not taking from it.”

When News4JAX went to the Baker Prevention Coalition Incorporated office in Macclenny on Wednesday, no one answered, and the office appeared to be closed. At one point, we spotted a woman exiting the office, but she didn’t respond and quickly got in her vehicle and drove away.

News4JAX called Rhoden’s cell, but there was no answer.

We also reached out to the local YMCA, where Rhoden is listed on her social media as executive director since May. However, First Coast YMCA said that it no longer employs Rhoden.

The coalition does a lot of work with other local organizations, offices and the Baker County School District. When asked, a district official declined to comment but said they won’t impact the district’s relationship with the coalition.

About the Author:

Joe covers education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.