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St. Petersburg Little League one of several nationwide missing money

ST. PETERSBURG — With each swing of the bat, the Northeast Little League has managed to keep organized youth baseball alive this fall in St. Petersburg.

But president David Vann said a shortage of cash is presenting challenges for the league. One of its ballparks doesn't even have lights in center field because the league can't afford to replace ones that have burned out.

"As we move into the fall, and the days get shorter, it's dangerous," Vann said. "It's just not safe for the older kids to be playing on fields where the lights aren't that good."

The cash shortage is because the Northeast Little League still hasn't received $35,000 in registration fees from a company it hired to collect them before the season started in September, Vann said.

Since writing about the missing fees this month, the Tampa Bay Times has identified at least 11 other sports organizations around the country reporting similar experiences with Jevin, a Texas-based sports-management company used by Northeast.

"(It's) stealing from kids," said Randy Seifert, manager of one of the affected leagues. "That's the worst part."

Those leagues serve players of all ages in states from Utah and Colorado to Texas, Louisiana and Maryland. Representatives of each league say Jevin collected registration fees on their behalf, then either delayed payment or didn't give them their money at all.

Some have turned to local law enforcement agencies. Across the dozen leagues contacted by the Times, including Northeast, the delayed or missing payments add up to at least $250,000.

Seifert, manager of the Centennial Youth Baseball-Softball Association in suburban Denver, said he first noticed in March that his youth baseball program hadn't received nearly $80,000 he said Jevin owed it.

Registration for its spring season started in December, and he said the league didn't receive any payments until mid May, when the company gave it half of what it was owed. The other half finally arrived in late June, he said.

"The fact that this is not my money and I'm responsible for it, that scared the hell out of me," Seifert said.

Seifert said the situation caused the league to delay buying uniforms and equipment, and put it in danger of cutting its season short.

In New Orleans, an adult soccer league did have to shorten its season when it didn't receive $31,000 in registration fees its president said was owed to it in late January.

Graham Bosworth, president of the Southeastern Louisiana Adult Soccer Association, said he first sought Jevin out as a way to simplify registration for his soccer league.

"They had said they could modernize our registration," Bosworth said, "allow us to pay through their portal, so that we wouldn't have to collect cash or checks, which is the way the league was running at the time."

What followed was much more complicated. Bosworth said after multiple attempts to reach the company, Jevin offered to give his league half of the money it had collected. Bosworth and the league filed a police report with police in Allen, Texas, where Jevin is located.

Desperate for the money, Bosworth and members of the league started filing refund claims with their credit card companies. They've since gotten nearly all the $31,000 back.

"It's a really frustrating experience," Bosworth said. "And the fact that this is happening to kids in addition to us, it's the worst part of it."

Dan Ptak, the owner of Jevin, did not return multiple phone calls for comment last week. In a prior interview with the Times, he said the problems with the Northeast Little League began in Utah, where parents of a youth football league began requesting refunds from their credit card companies after their league was missing $45,000. That led to a hold being put on Jevin's account.

Jevin helps sports leagues manage their day-to-day operations, including setting team rosters, creating league schedules and registering players for their sport.

When participants or parents register to play, Jevin collects and processes their fees and takes a percentage before depositing the rest in each league's account. Representatives of several of the leagues reporting issues said their agreements with Jevin say that the registration fees collected will be deposited in their accounts within a set time period, typically 48 hours.

Each of the leagues contacted by the Times said Jevin failed to honor that agreement. Instead, many said the company often paid in chunks every few weeks, even before they experienced longer delays this year.

"We should've been getting payments, but (league officials) didn't make a big deal out of it until they realized the season was starting," said Michael Kline from the Frederick National Little League in Maryland.

Kline said $18,000 in payments to his league were delayed in the spring, and the league is still missing $6,000. It also had an issue with delayed payments in fall 2015, he said. But after complaining and receiving all their money, Kline said league operators felt confident enough to continue using Jevin in 2016. Today, they're less optimistic about that decision.

"We're sort of thinking that we're never going to see that $6,000 again," Kline said.

One league, in Utah, learned its registration fees had been deposited into another league's account, according to a police report obtained by the Times. Ptak denied having done that with Northeast's money in his prior interview with the Times.

In St. Petersburg, Vann said some parents with Northeast Little League have started filing claims with their credit card companies to recover their money.

Vann said he spoke with Ptak last week. He said Ptak accused the Northeast Little League of defrauding Jevin by requesting those refunds — called chargebacks — while the money is locked in Ptak's account. Vann said after weeks of not being paid, something needed to be done.

"He said that since we had done the chargebacks, that he can't pay us," Vann said. "And I said, well we didn't do chargebacks for 60 days, and you didn't pay us either."

Vann said the league still hasn't received any money from Jevin but has gotten about $10,000 through chargebacks and $13,000 through donations from the community.

The league intends to see the rest of the season through, and is hoping to recover all $35,000 owed before it has to make rental payments for its fields in December. Registration for the league's 2017 spring season begins in January, though Vann said he isn't sure if the league will still use Jevin for registration.

"I can't say," Vann said. "I can't say."

Contact LaVendrick Smith at (727) 893-8644 or lsmith@tampabay.com. Follow @LaVendrickS

St. Petersburg Little League one of several nationwide missing money 10/23/16 [Last modified: Sunday, October 23, 2016 12:30pm]
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