In the past three years there’s been million of dollars reported missing from Little League Baseball franchises around the country. With the 2016 season underway, at least three cases of embezzlement are already under scrutiny by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office.
One Little League official told of another case in San Bernardino County where over $200,000 was missing from a league’s bank account. The thief was able to cunningly co-mingle the funds making the crime hard to prove. When confronted the embezzler repaid the funds and no incident report was filed. Four Little League officials spoke on the condition they remain anonymous.
While numerous other Little League officials would speak only off the record, the top ranking Little League official in the Western Region would talk on the record. “We are kept informed about those who steal from various Little League’s and it is very problematic,” said Dave Bonham, who is the San Bernardino-based Western Region Director of Little League Baseball.
Since each league is its own business, Bonham said all Little League International can do about theft is provide guidance. It can not be the enforcement arm. “When a league feels there is money missing, it needs to first collect as much evidence as possible. Then go to the local police or to the district attorney,” advised Bonham.
Other little League officials explained that each of the nation’s 6,500 leagues conduct business as a independent franchise or charter somewhat like McDonald’s. They all operate under a congressional bill signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. Each league is to keep a detailed record of income and expenditures. It calls for all leagues to complete a annual financial report to be submitted to the league’s board and onto Little League International in Williamsport.
Bonham explained that their franchises get the benefit of using the Little League name to fund raise, to participate in all-star tournaments, and use of its expansive informational resources. It provides free background checks on more than one million of the nation’s little league volunteers.
Bonham suggests that little league’s need strict oversight to protect funds. He said two unrelated people should sign expense checks, and cash transactions must include a receipt. He did say that snack bars can be vulnerable to embezzlement because all the transactions are by cash. Bonham said there should be at least one experienced person designated to monitor the snack bar at all times, adding that teenaged volunteers also need supervision.
Little League International recommends that audit reports should be easily accessible to the public, possibly posted on the wall outside the snack bar. However, in a 15-year survey conducted at 15 Little League franchises in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, not one league was willing to post a hard copy in public view.
Williamsport officials tell its charters that along with a president and treasurer, a league audit committee is a must. Since leagues are run by a revolving group of overworked volunteers, it should secure a public accountant to assist the treasurer. “In every local Little League a great amount of trust is placed in volunteers,” said Melissa Singer, Treasurer of Little League Baseball International. She recommends to have as many people counting monies at one time as possible.
In a news release, Singer pointed out that even those who are thought highly trustworthy can be lured into doing the wrong thing. Singer acknowledged that Little League International has noticed more recent stories about missing funds. “It doesn’t matter how trustworthy you think a person is. You’ll never fully know their personal situation, and what reason that person would have to rationalize stealing from a league,” said Singer.
In San Bernardino County, there have been first-hand reports about leagues who have had their entire accounts pilfered by a official. Some that have occurred over years and records altered to a point that no paper trail existed. Offenders were simply removed from office and no police reports filed. Some incidents make the newspapers and others are “gagged” to save the league’s reputation. “When people question a league’s fundraising records, it can be as bad as being robbed,” added Singer.
With some leagues lucky enough to generate very large sums, well into six figures, Bonham told about crime insurance offered by Little League. He said it protects districts and leagues against a monetary loss caused by dishonesty, disappearance, or property loss. “There have been too many cases that have been brought to our attention,” said Bonham.
Representatives from Little League International say they do not maintain statistics on thefts at local leagues and therefore have no way of knowing if there has been an increase in thefts or not. “In the event that a league needs to file a crime insurance claim, Little League’s risk management department assists by gathering information from police reports and from the local league involved,” explained Brian McClintock, Senior Director of Communications for Little League International. “Little league International shares that information with the provider (AIG Insurance), who then works directly with the local league to resolve the issue.”
A spokesperson for the San Bernardino County District Attorney said unless you have a case number, it is difficult to locate a case filed against someone specifically accused of theft from Little League.