LYNNFIELD (CBS) – The Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General is probing the financial records of a North Shore youth football program, the WBZ I-Team has learned.
The I-Team uncovered the Attorney General’s investigation of the Lynnfield Youth Football & Cheerleading organization after speaking with a handful of parents, who shared concerns about how the league’s money has been spent over the years.
“There isn’t any accountability or transparency,” one parent said.
The parents spoke with the I-Team on condition of anonymity to protect their kids who participate in the program.
“You see these people in the community. It’s uncomfortable to speak out,” a parent expressed. “There’s a fear of retribution. If you have a kid in the program, do you need to worry about playing time?”
The I-Team reviewed annual tax documents the nonprofit files with the Attorney General. They show the program has consistently outspent neighboring youth programs, sometimes by double. In a couple of seasons, Lynnfield surpassed $100,000 in expenses.
But even as concussion awareness grew, parents say that money did not buy new equipment. Only when rumbles about program finances started to surface did the league recently go on a new spending spree for helmets, uniforms and pads, they say.
“No one knows how the money is being spent,” a parent said. “That’s what is so frustrating.”
For the past decade, parents say three people have remained in control of the program:
- Former president Thomas Terranova, whose accounting firm keeps the books and prepares the annual taxes, according to documents filed with the Attorney General
- Current president Wayne Shaffer, who works at Terranova’s firm
- Board member Stephen Berardino, who owns an Everett printing business that provides athletic apparel for the program, according to parents
Tax documents the I-Team reviewed do include some interesting details:
- Revenue in tax year 2012 was $97,337, but plummeted to $52,382 the following year, before doubling to $105,816 in 2014
- Unlike other youth football programs, Lynnfield does not include an itemized breakdown of expenses on tax forms for things like banquets, trophies, equipment and referees
- The organization said it lost $243 from fundraising on its 2011 tax form
- The organization reported it lost $817 on concession stand sales on its 2014 tax form
- A cost for “taxes” is listed every year, presumably for preparation fees, and typically ranges from $800 to $1,200. However, in 2014, that cost is listed at $5,941
Phil Crawford, the chair of the Lynnfield Board of Selectmen, said he has heard complaints about program finances from parents for several years. However, he told the I-Team town leaders have no control over the nonprofit organization.
But when a new athletic facility recently opened at the high school, Crawford said the town did take away the program’s ability to run the concession stand during weekend games.
When asked if the decision was made because of concerns about oversight of the cash sales, Crawford responded, “Yes. We had dozens of complaints about concession stand money. It’s all cash. People want to know where it all went and what it was being used for.”
Crawford added, “The parents have to know where all the money went they’ve poured into this program.”
While digging for details on this story, the I-Team discovered two “civil investigative demand” filed in Suffolk Superior Court by the Attorney General’s NonProfit/Public Charities Division.
According to court documents, the Attorney General requested extensive production of bank records for Lynnfield Youth Football & Cheerleading.
The requested financial records include all accounts having as signatories Terranova, Shaffer, Berardino and Jit Lee Billings, a manager at the accounting firm who has been listed as board treasurer in recent years.
Berardino’s business, State-Line Graphics, also received a demand for financial transactions with the youth sports program.
“The review of the requested information is necessary in order to determine whether charitable funds have been applied to charitable purposes and if breaches of trust have been committed,” the court documents say.
Leaders of the Lynnfield youth program did not respond to WBZ requests for comment about the program.
When the I-Team caught up to Shaffer, the program president initially claimed to have no knowledge of the Attorney General’s investigation.
After being pressed, Shaffer said, “I find it kind of different, if you will, that they wouldn’t take their time looking into things that are more positive.”
When asked if program funds were misused, Shaffer answered, “Absolutely not.”
The I-Team also approached Berardino with questions about the investigation. He denied knowing anything about the Attorney General’s probe of his company’s financial records.
“My secretary must have got it,” he told the I-Team when shown a copy of the demand. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
When asked about potential misuse of program funds, Berardino responded, “Are you kidding me?! They have more money in their bank account than any other football thing.”
A spokeswoman with the Attorney General said the agency would not comment on the investigation.
To date, the AG’s office has not issued any findings or allegations of wrongdoing against the leaders of the program.