For 15 years, Jerry Benisch and Stephen Verhage ran the Little League in their hometown. As the only two officers they handled everything from registration to grounds keeping, bookkeeping to ordering uniforms. But one day Benisch noticed unusually withdrawals from the league’s bank account and found out that not only was Verhage making abnormal withdrawls and classifying them as league expenses (paying umpires, ordering new equipment, etc.), he had also neglected to pay down the principal on a loan the league had taken out. Over a six year period, Verhage stole more than $200,000 from Kennedy Little League
As VICE reported;
Since 2009, almost $2 million has been reported stolen or embezzled from 37 Little Leagues… In 2012, New City, New York native Joyce Bidnick pled guilty to stealing over $400,000 from her Little League… Two years prior, Stony Point Little League Treasurer Karen Ramos, who had her own children go through the Little League system, took $157,000 over five years… Barbara Davidson was named Volunteer of the Year in Torrance, California and had a son in the Torrance Little League system. In 2010, she was charged with embezzling more than $111,000 from the league.
How could one person manage to embezzle that much money without anyone noticing? Even in a small league, surely someone is checking the bank statements or balancing the books? The problem is, especially in small leagues with only one treasurer, the person balancing the books is usually the one stealing from them, and they have the opportunity to cover their tracks before anyone notices.
Since Verhage handled all the money and controlled the bookkeeping, he was able to make personal purchases and mark them down as legitimate expenses, such as uniforms or grounds crew expenses. Nobody was checking his work or looking at bank statements. As Verhage told his friend and league partner at the pizza parlor, “it got to be too easy…”
Even though it may not be a huge money making operation, a sports league could easily be handling millions of dollars a year, especially if they have multiple sports running each season. Let’s say it costs $50 to register a child for a season. Multiply that by several thousand registrants and suddenly you are dealing with a lot of money! If an unscrupulous employee is skimming a few hundred dollars here are there and using the paperwork to cover it up who is going to notice until they’ve pocketed thousands? If your league still accepts checks or cash payments (in addition to credit cards) it’s even harder to keep tabs on every cent. What’s to stop that embezzler from snagging that $50 before it even gets to the bank. The system indicates that family has paid, but the funds never make it to the account! It breaks our heart to think that volunteers and elected officials would steal from a youth sports league, but the world is, sadly, full of people who are more than willing to take advantage of others and their trust, especially when they find themselves in a position of power that lets them get away with it.
That’s why transparency, especially when it comes to a league’s finances, is so important. With a registration system in place, not only is it easier to keep tabs on all your players, but also on their money. League administrators (i.e. more than one person!) can receive statements showing all account activity each month, including funds in and funds out, so if any unusual money movement happens you’ll know about it immediately. While we never want to think the worst of our neighbors and friends, the sad truth is that people like Verhage do exist and they do find their way into our sports leagues. Never let one person control all the finances in your league, no matter how much you trust them! At the very least, establish some kind of check-in system that can stop fraud and embezzlement before it gets out of control.