Firefighter accused of stealing from benevolent fund

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**UPDATE** TJ Rhoades has been arrested and charged with Grand Theft for stealing over $220,000 from the benevolent funds.

SARASOTA, Fla. - Board members from the Sarasota firefighters benevolent fund say thousands of dollars was stolen from their account.  And many believe one of their own maybe responsible for the theft.

"When something like this happened.. its just unreal," said Jason Wilkins. He's the president of the Sarasota Firefighter's Benevolent Fund.  The organization raises money to assist firefighters and their families during times of crisis and in many cases they also help citizens. But now one of their own is being accused of stealing some of that money.     

"At first we thought it was clerical but then after reviewing the account we suspected that some misdoing might have taken place on the behalf of out treasure," added Wilkins

That treasurer is TJ Rhoades, he's held the position since 2010.  After the discovery he was terminated and is now facing criminal charges for taking what some speculate could be as much as $50,000.

"Anyone who steals from their own organization they should be fired . it's a disgrace for their own people," said one Sarasota resident.

"Its shameful and heartbreaking to say the least," added Carmen J. Petrilla

But despite the missing money many in the community say they will continue supporting the firefighters.

"This is only one individual, it has no bearing on the organization.  They do good work and I hope they will continue to do good work," said Petrilla.

Wilkins says services and donations wont be affected and that the organization is already taking steps to prevent a similar reoccurrence. "We're going to have alerts anytime a withdrawal is placed upon the account and as soon as all of this settles down we are going to be looking to contact an outside agency to manage the account so that none of the member will ever have access to the accounts again."

The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office is investigating the issue.  Again, many speculate as much $50,000 could be missing but officials say they wont know the final figure until after the investigation.