Background Checks in Youth Sports: Not Just for Sexual Abuse

I’ve long been a strong proponent of background checks for all who work with kids— not just for sexual abuse (though, sadly, this still remains a very real issue as just this week Marvin Sharp, an Olympics-level gymnastics coach who had been arrested last month for sexual abuse of young girls was found dead in his jail cell after apparently committing suicide) but also for educational credentials and certifications.

Now I’m beginning to think we need to ensure another type of check as well: a financial check. At the beginning of the summer I wrote a feature for The Boston Globe Magazine of which I am very proud because it offers such concrete advice advice for preventing fraud in youth sports organizations, or really any nonprofit. The piece, “Youth soccer’s case of the missing $195,o00,” appeared in print the weekend we moved to Rhode Island so I wasn’t able to feature it as much as I would have liked. Since it appeared, Scott Vermilya has been arraigned on embezzlement charges.

Having been a Framingham resident, and now living in Rhode Island it appears that non-profit financial fraud is following more… In all seriousness though it is a reminder of how widespread these sorts of problems often are. Steven Zina has been charged with stealing about $12,000 from a softball club. What is most disturbing about this story is that in 2014 he was arrested for stealing $19,000 from a high school booster club! How in the world could he take on a treasurer position in the same state? In this case running a background check may not have fully solved the problem because being arrested and being arraigned/convicted/sentenced are all different. But even a Google search turns up the arrest in 2014! Anyone who will be handling money in a voluntary capacity for youth sports and similar activities needs to be vetted. And as a reminder that this *doesn’t* happen just in youth activities, Kimberly Moore was just arrested and charged with stealing about $125,000 from the Junior League of Rhode Island.

Chris Cole, Senior Technical Manager of Not-For-Profits of the American Institute of CPAs, was a great resource for the Globe Story I did. Not all of his advice made it to print so I want to offer some more of his insight that bears repeating and sharing. If a nonprofit is the victim of fraud, Cole emphasizes, it is tremendously important to report the crime to the proper authorities. While there may be some reluctance to report it out of embarrassment or fear of negative publicity, “If you don’t press charges the fraudster is going to go somewhere else and do it again. It hurts to take one for the team, but nonetheless you have to help the next organization this person could end up in.”

So remember the names Scott Vermilya, Steven Zina, and Kimberly Moore, whether you live in Rhode Island, New England, or anywhere else. While their crimes are different than those of Jerry Sandusky or Marvin Sharp, they nevertheless cause pain and deny opportunities to millions of others. So don’t forget all types of background checks this fall!

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