Harrison County

These cameras’ eyes see all, including would-be thieves

One of the new surveillance cameras at the Hope Chest in Long Beach shows one of several areas in the store. The boutique, which gives part of its proceeds to the Pink Heart Funds, installed a security system to deter thieves.
One of the new surveillance cameras at the Hope Chest in Long Beach shows one of several areas in the store. The boutique, which gives part of its proceeds to the Pink Heart Funds, installed a security system to deter thieves.

JoAn Niceley is tired of thieves.

Shoplifters have been stealing from the Hope Chest, the gift shop she owns. She gives a portion of all proceeds to the Pink Heart Funds, the nonprofit group she runs to provide cancer patients with wigs, breast prostheses and bras.

She has now installed security cameras to help identify sticky-fingered bandits who steal from her boutique. Stealing from the shop, she said, is not only affecting her livelihood, it’s depriving the Pink Heart Funds of money to help others.

“It cost $1,200 by the time the surveillance system was installed,” Niceley said. “But it was worth it. I can view my store from all angles now. I can even see the cameras on my cellphone from wherever I am.”

In August, she learned someone had embezzled $235,000 from the Pink Hearts Funds over a 17-month period. The financial reports shown to her didn’t accurately depict the finances, she said. The organization is staffed by volunteers. Even Niceley collects no paycheck, but her group now has a certified public accountant and a bookkeeper.

JoAn Niceley will continue Pink Heart Funds operation despite losing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Niceley finally ordered the surveillance system after a recent incident that involved a theft.

From ruse to theft to cameras

Two women recently came in the store.

One distracted the manager, acting as if she wanted “to buy a lot of stuff,” Niceley said.

After the women left, the manager realized her purse, tucked out of sight in a private back room, had been pilfered. Someone stole her wallet, including cash and important cards. The manager canceled her credit cards quickly.

We never skipped a beat after we learned of the embezzlement. And that’s because of so many fundraisers and donations and we had a good supply of wigs on hand.

JoAn Niceley, founder and executive director of Pink Heart Funds

“What is wrong with people?” Niceley said. “I don’t want to call the police on anyone but I will if I have to. I’ve got security cameras now and I won’t think twice about calling the men in blue.”

A few days ago, Niceley suspected a shoplifting incident. When she reviewed the cameras, they showed no theft, but at least they showed the scene, she said.

The boutique sells gifts, Dana Wittmann pottery, jewelry and more.

Pink Heart flourishes

The Pink Heart Funds is flourishing in spite of the embezzlement.

“We never skipped a beat after we learned of the embezzlement,” Niceley said. “And that’s because of so many fundraisers and donations and we had a good supply of wigs on hand.”

Melinda Rosetti-Spence, the group’s former volunteer treasurer and event coordinator, is free on bond pending court action on an embezzlement charge.

The Pink Heart Funds has served 625 people this year, mostly women and children. Ponytails donated to the cause are used to wigs given to cancer patients.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews

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