When ‘Everyone’s Grandma’ Is the Town’s Little League Thief


On Aug. 5, 2014, Detective Barbera called the Dimitries into the police station and spoke to them individually. The detective began showing Ms. Dimitrie discrepancies he had found: a $900 bill for an annual league expense but a check to her personal account for $9,000, for example.

“She’d make statements, ‘Oh, yeah, that looks wrong,’” Detective Barbera said. “Or she’d say, ‘Oh, yeah, that dollar amount is outrageous.’”

She made no formal confession; that came in court months later. But according to Detective Barbera, Ms. Dimitrie said, “Well, it’s black and white,” before breaking down in tears.

“She commented about how she was going to look in the community,” Detective Barbera said. “She helped with the kids at her church and did other things like that. And she kept saying over and over that Frank didn’t know any of this — it was all on her.”

Many here still question why the police never charged Mr. Dimitrie, believing he, as the league president and husband of the treasurer, had a responsibility to know where the money was going.

“But that’s more of an ethical thing than a criminal thing,” Detective Barbera said.

When Ms. Dimitrie was charged with embezzlement on Sept. 12, 2014, there was shock throughout town and then a backlash against the new Little League board members, who were accused of conducting a spiteful witch hunt against two respected figures.

Last year, Ms. Dimitrie pleaded guilty to embezzling from the Clinton Valley Little League in a county court. Though she faced up to 20 years in prison, Ms. Dimitrie received five years of probation and was ordered to refrain from visiting casinos.

“I’m really sorry,” she said at her sentencing.

Mr. Garon, Ms. Dimitrie’s lawyer, in negotiations with prosecutors, insisted that she had made several repayments and that the total league shortfall was much less than $300,000.

Restitution to the league was set at $175,000, with Ms. Dimitrie paying the league $10,000 at her sentencing last year, and another $3,000 shortly thereafter. She has made monthly payments of $750 since then and remains on probation.

Mr. Dimitrie stepped down as the freshman coach last year. Ms. Dimitrie lost her library job with the school district in 2014.

“There was never an issue of guilt or innocence,” said Mr. Garon, who has handled three cases of youth sports embezzlement in eastern Michigan in recent years. “The Dimitries are very good people, but they just got caught up in a situation.”

League board members acknowledge that the day-to-day operation of the league was largely unaffected during Ms. Dimitrie’s term as treasurer. Most families were happy. They also point out that they had no additional money for field maintenance, so games were played on spotty grass and irregular infields. Plans for the league to buy land for its own ball fields were shelved because of a lack of funds.

The T-shirts that served as uniforms were collected at the end of each season and reissued the next year. Short on cash, the league stopped traveling with various age-group teams to weekend tournaments in other towns, a favorite perk of the players in previous seasons.

Photo

Dennis McKay, who helped to expose the theft, is now the league’s treasurer.

Credit
Brittany Greeson for The New York Times

But in the last two years, by almost every measure, the Clinton Valley Little League has been reborn.

“Once the bleeding stopped and money wasn’t being siphoned away, the financial situation turned around overnight,” said Linda McGrail Belau, a lawyer who represented the league during the court proceedings.

“Everybody is busy improving the fields, buying new equipment, and the players are going to outside tournaments again,” said Ms. Belau, who has children in the league. “Enrollment is up.”

The board has also adopted a new set of stringent rules that mandate regular reviews of the league’s financial ledger by multiple parties.

On April 30, the league hosted its 58th annual opening day extravaganza, with hundreds of players gathered for games and team pictures while wearing authentic-looking, high-quality baseball uniforms. A concession stand sold food, refreshments and league paraphernalia — a first, board members said, for a regular-season game.

The town athletic complex was packed with parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents who set up their folding chairs to ring multiple fields. The parking lots were filled.

Ryan McKay, the 11-year-old son of Mr. McKay, the board member who helped expose the theft, said he still rides his bike with friends around the corner from his house and down the Dimitries’ street.

“But I tell my friends, ‘When we get to their house, let’s go on the other side of the street,’” Ryan said. “We always ride on the other side.”

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