I-Team: Hard-Hitting Allegations About Youth Football League Mismanaging Funds

PEABODY (CBS) – Concussion awareness is getting more attention than ever on youth football fields across the state.

But in one community, parents and coaches have some hard-hitting allegations about how the league is spending its money. They say the unanswered questions also raise concerns about their kids’ safety.

When the Peabody Youth Football and Cheering program kicked off in August, some of the players did not have helmets for several practices. Other kids received equipment that was ripped, cracked, moldy, or helmets that had not been professionally re-certified for several years, according to photos provided to WBZ.

Parents, who had been suspicious about finances in previous years, said they reached their breaking point.

“That’s my kid’s head in that helmet and I want my child to be safe,” one parent expressed.

To protect their kids from retribution in the program, several parents and coaches spoke with WBZ on condition of anonymity. They all said safety was a factor that motivated them to speak out.

“Where is the money? What’s going on? And what are you spending it on?” one parent asked.

Those questions are targeted at the organization’s president, Jacqui Pence.

Peabody Youth Football President Jacqui Pence (WBZ-TV)

Peabody Youth Football President Jacqui Pence (WBZ-TV)

After taking over the league in 2013, tax forms the I-Team reviewed show Pence quickly ran the league into the red zone. A surplus of $11,621 evaporated into a negative balance of $166 a couple years later.

Other youth programs in the area have plenty of cash in the bank: Stoneham reported $13,160; Swampscott $22,077; Danvers $25,792; and Ipswich had $52,199, according to the most recent 990 IRS forms available.

With roughly 200 football players and another 100 cheerleaders all paying $180 in registration fees, critics say the Peabody program should have plenty of funds available for equipment.

“My initial reaction when I read the tax forms was I couldn’t understand why anyone would steal from children,” a parent told the I-Team.

On one year’s tax forms, there is almost $17,000 listed in fundraising expenses. However, the documents do not show a single dime actually raised.

A nonprofit form filled out that year for the Attorney General’s Office asked, “Did your organization solicit contributions or have funds solicited on its behalf?” The box is checked, “no.”

“How do you explain that?” a coach said. “It just doesn’t seem right. Something doesn’t seem right.”

That coach also wondered about the thousands of dollars listed for banquet and trophy expenses. He told the I-Team he and other team leaders have paid for an end-of-the-year party and trophies out of their own pockets.

“I have never been reimbursed by the league for any of that,” the coach said.

Peabody District Court records show the league president also stiffed North East Athletic and Trophy Co (NEATCO), a sporting goods store that has served North Shore sports program for four decades.

Owner Robert Preece had to chase Pence to small claims court to get her to pay up for about $2,500 in merchandise. Preece won a judgment in April, records show.

According to the tax forms, the organization’s books are in Pence’s possession. But when parents and coaches ask questions or seek more details about finances, they claim to always get excuses about why the records are not available.

“I would just like to have someone held accountable and answer the questions that are asked of them,” a parent said.

When first contacted by the I-Team, Pence agreed to meet and respond to the concerns. But the league president delayed several times and then cancelled the interview, saying the matter would be handled internally.

The I-Team then caught up to Pence during a practice, but she did not answer any questions about money or player safety.

“Numbers don’t lie,” a parent said. “And when you can’t put the numbers together, you have a problem.”

Nonprofit organizations are responsible for filing annual documents with the appropriate agencies. However, the I-Team discovered inconsistent compliance with those requirements.

Salem and Lynn, who compete in the same youth football conference, did not have recent tax forms filed with the Attorney General or available on charity watchdog sites like GuideStar. A spokeswoman with the Attorney General’s Office said those organizations will be reminded about requirements to get in compliance and be transparent for donors.

Parents who have concerns about their child’s youth sports league can also contact the AG’s Nonprofits/Charities Division at 617-963-2315.

“I want to see justice for the kids,” a Peabody coach said. “I want to see new equipment. They deserve it. They deserve to have better than what we’re giving them.”

On Wednesday, after WBZ first reported the story, parents launched an online petition that asks the league president and other board members to immediately step down and turn over financial records.

Ryan Kath can be reached at rkath@cbs.com. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.

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