Police: Indiana Youth Baseball Coach Took Parents’ Money And Ran
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UPDATED 04/24/12 – 8:32 p.m.
HOBART, Ind. (CBS) — Multiple felony charges are expected Wednesday against a 40-year-old man accused of stealing thousands of dollars from a Little League team in northwest Indiana.
As WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports, the baseball coach collected as much as $8,000 from the parents of a dozen 11-year-old boys in Hobart, Ind. He was from distant South Elgin, but had a good résumé, and was to coach the Deep River Devils traveling baseball team.
Police don’t know where the man is Tuesday night, and charges have yet to be filed, so his name is not being released for now.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports
But, as CBS 2’s Jim Williams reports, the man allegedly duped parents and kids by selling himself as an experienced baseball coach.
Eleven-year-old Zack Merrill loves baseball, and he was thrilled with his new Little League coach in Hobart, Ind.
“It was really shocking to see that somebody took this much initiative into coaching us, because we never really had this experience before of having a good coach,” he said.
The coach made big promises to the parents and players: the team would travel throughout northwest Indiana and Illinois, and they’d wear real uniforms.
“We kind of jumped on the band wagon,” Zack’s mother, Lisa Merrill said. “He made it sound exciting. We were going to play 60 games, instead of 30. It’s going to cost a little bit more money.”
It cost $675 per child to sign up for the team. Twelve kids signed up, so in all $8,100 was paid to the coach, who is nowhere to be found.
The $675 per player was supposed to go for uniforms and tournament entry fees. But the team has no uniforms, and is not entered in any tournaments.
Hobart Police Lt. Dave Grissom said, “I feel sorry for the kids. This guy duped the whole community; not just the parents, but the kids, this whole community he duped.”
Grissom said the bank account the coach was using has a negative balance and is probably bouncing checks. He added that not only are parents out of their money, but Hobart High School is owed money for allowing the team to practice there.
Lisa Merrill said the coach wrote her a letter saying he had a breakdown and is receiving treatment, and that he promised to repay the money to parents once the treatment is over.
She added that the boys have been playing together for two years, but the coach took over last spring and he wanted to have the kids play 60 games.
Hobart police are investigating, and theft charges are expected to be filed on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Lisa Merrill said the parents are looking at their options so the boys can still play some ball this year, including becoming another Little League team or playing on the weekends.
The coach made his way into their lives by dating the mother of one of the players.
“He showed up with a fancy résumé. He wasn’t from this area. He showed up with a résumé that said he had coached all these college teams, and was coach of the year Illinois, and all kinds of stuff,” Grissom said.
Grissom also said the coach tried using that same résumé to coach baseball at Hobart High School, but the athletic department did a background check and learned he was a faker.
The school told the man they wanted nothing to do with him after figuring out he was a fraud, but they didn’t know he was also talking to the parents of the Little Leaguers.
“It’s very upsetting, because he’s got kids of his own, and I don’t know that he would want somebody to come in and do that to his family,” Lisa Merrill said.
Police think he the man might be in northern Illinois. They also say the woman he was dating was not aware he was a suspected con artist.