Kalamazoo Strong founder never trusted suspected embezzler

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — One of the original organizers of the Kalamazoo Strong group said she started sending out warnings two years ago about a woman now accused of embezzling thousands of dollars from the organization.

Cheryl Robinson created the Kalamazoo Area Online Yard Sales group on Facebook. After being successful with helping people through that group, she and some friends wanted to find a way to also help those directly affected by the February 2016 Kalamazoo shooting rampage that killed six people and seriously wounded two more.

“I wanted to do something to bring some happiness back someone, to bring a smile back on their faces, even if it was for that one day,” Robinson said.

At first, Kalamazoo Strong was organizing T-shirt sales and delivering baked goods to the car dealership and Cracker Barrel shortly after the tragedy.

Then Robinson met Rachel Kaiser.

“She showed up with cards and wanted to help and she had these other ideas of like, ‘Maybe there’s more ways we can do things,'” Robinson recalled Thursday, speaking only with 24 Hour News 8.

She said Kaiser recommended forming a board and becoming a nonprofit, but Robinson said they only intended on holding small fundraisers that went directly to intended beneficiaries.

Something didn’t seem right to Robinson, so she reached out to her brother Ray Martin for a second opinion.

“Rachel comes in and starts talking about money, money, money, and that’s one of the things I remember messaging back was: ‘This sounds like she came into this with this plan of, “How can I make some money off of this?”‘” Martin told 24 Hour News 8.

The two said Kaiser brought in people who they didn’t know to form a board and she wouldn’t budge about having one person oversee the bank account, rather than two like Robinson recommended.

Eventually, she agreed to let Martin sit on the board. He opted out after deciding he wasn’t comfortable with the direction the group was going.

Robinson also posted to Facebook about stepping away from the board and expressed concerns about Kaiser.

“Rachel decided to put the paperwork all in her name without our knowledge … We have no idea how the money was used to this day that was in Rachel’s account. We have been told it was distributed as of 4/29/16. KSO is not going in the direction we had dreamed of,” her post from April 29, 2016, reads in part.

Robinson and Martin kept text messages and Facebook screenshots of messages about Kaiser and from her. The same day Robinson posted to Facebook about removing herself from the organization, Kaiser accused her of making “slanderous remarks.”

>>App users: Screenshots of text messages

Robinson also reached out to other Kalamazoo-based entities in 2016, asking they look into Kaiser before supporting her, but told 24 Hour News 8 they didn’t follow up.

Then, early this month, news broke that Kaiser was accused of stealing thousands from Kalamazoo Strong and the now-suspended Kalamazoo Cobras basketball team. She later turned herself in to authorities and was charged with embezzlement.

She’s also accused of stealing the money raised through a charity basketball game that was supposed to help with a Kalamazoo family’s medical bills, but is not facing criminal charges for that instance.

“To take a tragedy and turn it into something that goes into your pocket, I can’t fathom that myself,” Robinson said.

Kaiser is due back in court next week. Previous calls to her for comment have not been returned.

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