The Trusted Grown-Ups Who Steal Millions From Youth Sports


In Wisconsin, a self-described soccer mom confessed to another soccer mom about taking money from the local club, only to discover she was taking even more money.

A woman in Vermont was convicted of stealing from a fund established to honor a dead child who had been a club member.

The exposure of embezzlement leaves communities thunderstruck and wounded at the revelation of neighbors stealing from neighbors, friends cheating friends. The children of the accused are often best friends with the children of the accusers.

“I couldn’t comprehend having to tell the 700 kids in our entire membership that the money was gone and they couldn’t play soccer anymore because their treasurer was a thief,” Diane Miller, the Tri-Boro Youth Soccer Club’s current treasurer, said last month, recalling Farley’s arrest in 2013.

“I wanted to cry.”

Skimming and Spending

While the preponderance of cases occurs in suburbia, there have been dozens of arrests in farm communities and in big cities, too, including Manhattan.

“There’s always a lot of cash involved in these organizations, and whenever there’s cash, there’s people eyeing the cash,” said Tim Delaney, president and chief executive of the National Council of Nonprofits.

Erik Carrozza, the founder of the Center for Fraud Protection, said: “Someone can easily skim 20 percent off the top and it will not be noticed for a while. Twenty percent for five years ends up being a lot of money.”

That money gets spent in a variety of ways.

The police have reported that purloined money has gone to dog grooming, tickets to Walt Disney World, illicit drugs, a child’s wedding, fishing trips, financial advice, N.F.L. and Major League Baseball tickets, lingerie, massive deliveries of yard mulch, college loans and the interest on personal property being held in pawn shops.

Gambling debt has played a role in many cases.

Kevin Short, a lawyer who represented a hockey league official in Minnesota convicted of tax evasion after stealing more than $400,000 from a league, said casino debt in fraud cases is so common now that investigators routinely check gambling habits when embezzlement is suspected.

“It’s a standard question,” Short said. “Since gambling came into Minnesota, we’ve been having problems and embezzlement.”

Prosecutors and defense lawyers say that many others who have embezzled from youth sports organizations have done so because they were enduring a period of financial distress because of a divorce, a job loss or both.

From a work-release facility where he is confined after serving several months in jail, Kevin L. Baker said he stole more than $200,000 from the Kent Little League in Washington because he was trying to survive financially.

“I’m usually a trustworthy, honest person,” Baker, who was the league’s treasurer for seven years, said in a telephone interview last month. “I got in a bad situation, and when you’re in a bad situation you make decisions that you wouldn’t normally make.”

Since 2007, Baker, who coached his two sons in the league, had been a responsible volunteer at the league’s many activities.

But in 2011, he lost his job, and his wife moved to Idaho with the couple’s sons as part of a divorce. A grandfather who had helped raise Baker and had been a father figure also died around the same time.

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Kevin L. Baker, the former treasurer for the Kent Little League in Washington, in court last year after being sentenced to 22 months in jail for stealing more than $200,000 from the club.

Credit
Steve Hunter/Kent Reporter

To raise his spirits and to try something new — his grandparents had run a tavern — Baker decided to spend $100,000 to buy a bar. The business started strong, then flagged precipitously.

Mindy Young, who prosecuted the case, said Baker had taken money from the Kent Little League in 271 transactions that included cashier’s checks for as much as $20,000. He knew that no one truly scrutinized the treasurer’s books he had been doctoring.

But on Dec. 9, 2014, Kent’s Little League president, Greg Whitcomb, went to an Office Depot and tried to use the league’s A.T.M. card to buy $18 worth of envelopes. The purchase was denied.

Based on the financial reports he had been receiving from Baker, Whitcomb believed the league had $227,000 in bank and investment accounts. For a decade, the league had been soliciting donations and were finally on the verge of buying their own baseball and softball fields.

The Kent Little League was actually in debt, owing uniform manufacturers $20,000.

“Worse, all the hard work by volunteers raising money for years was lost,” Whitcomb said.

Baker turned himself into the Kent police.

“I felt so guilty; I couldn’t sleep at night,” said Baker, who has since been ordered to pay $208,000 in restitution.

Last year, Baker, who had no previous criminal record, was sentenced to 22 months in jail.

String of Tell-Tale Signs

It often takes suspicious board members or officers to uncover the wrongdoing.

In the case involving Pennsylvania’s Tri-Boro Youth Soccer Club, Farley’s crime was not uncovered until a new club president, Tino Babayan, hired a lawyer to advise the club about various matters, including its finances. The lawyer quickly became suspicious of Farley’s bookkeeping, especially when the club’s retainer check bounced.

Babayan learned that 80 percent of the club’s money was missing.

“Farley was basically paying off his bills and living as if the club’s account were his own,” said Steven Luksa, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case.

Farley declined to be interviewed last month, but his lawyer, George Heitczman, said that when his client lost his job working on Wall Street, he began making loans to himself from the club’s account.

“He felt he was just borrowing, but that is a slippery slope,” Heitczman said. “There were some payments back to the league, but Brian got so far behind.”

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Diane Miller, Tri-Boro’s treasurer, and Tino Babayan, the club’s former president, who exposed the embezzlement after learning 80 percent of the organization’s money was missing.

Credit
Mark Makela for The New York Times

Meanwhile, the club’s board members, facing a host of unpaid bills, were suddenly desperate to keep Tri-Boro solvent.

Farley offered the club and prosecutors a restitution deal; the organization’s leaders and the club’s parent group balked.

Diane Miller, the new treasurer, had pored over the bank records and saw that the club’s A.T.M. card had been used to pay for $500 hairdressing appointments, hotel stays, wine and cigars.

“At that point, I wanted to find him,” Miller said of Farley, “and spit in his face.”

But the club, which needed the infusion of cash, took the deal, which amounted to $55,000.

Farley received five years of probation and was ordered to make gradual, systemic repayments to Tri-Boro for the remainder of what he owed the club. Farley, who has remained in the Allentown, Pa., area, has been paying back the money at about $225 a month and recently told another board member that he intended to pay back the roughly $60,000 he owes the club.

Miller is skeptical. “We’ll never see it all,” she said.

Board members were forced to dip into their own pockets for $200 or $300 each to pay some of the club’s most urgent expenses and keep it afloat.

This year, the club is thriving, with a growing membership roll.

Coaches and other club members have adapted to new policies mandating invoices and receipts for any reimbursable expenses, regardless of how small the sum. Two board members are also required to extensively review the club’s books monthly.

“We can’t let anything go unexamined,” Miller said.

Like the Tri-Boro Soccer Club, the Kent Little League in Washington had to run on a skeleton budget before it rebounded in part because several local sponsors donated time and money when they heard of Baker’s theft. A software company that had been working on a new league website chose to finish and install the website for free, which quickened the pace that valuable registration fees flowed into the league’s bank accounts.

Still, the Kent Little League misses the more than $200,000 it intended to spend on new fields, cash Whitcomb knows the league will likely never recoup.

As Whitcomb retrieved the mail at home not long ago with his 15-year-old son, he saw an envelope from Baker.

“I smirked and handed it to my son and said, ‘Here’s the first restitution payment to your Little League,’” Whitcomb said.

Inside the envelope were two checks for $14 and $11.

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