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Stealing from children -- and how to prevent it
by Mike Woitalla, March 18th, 2010 4:03AM
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TAGS:  youth boys, youth girls


By Mike Woitalla

A youth soccer league's fees are raised, piquing the curiosity of a parent, who decides to investigate. She researches refereeing and field rental fees, and finds significant gaps between what was charged and what was paid for those services.

Subsequently, the league treasurer resigns amid accusations of financial wrongdoing. But it’s too late for the children in the 75-team Central Missouri Soccer League. The Columbia Daily Tribune explains that the league’s finances are too disorganized to move forward for the 2010 season.

Alas, embezzlement from youth sports organizations is no rarity. Just how easy it is to get away with stealing funds was demonstrated a few years ago when in Michigan the sheriff’s department said it was able to arrest a man, who stole up to $30,000 from a youth soccer organization, only because a one-day delay in his garbage pickup enabled them to recover the crucial evidence from his trash can that linked him to the theft.

In 2007, the former treasurer of the Castro Valley Youth Soccer League in California was charged with embezzling nearly $170,000 over a 30-month period.

Last November, a Pennsylvania woman known to her friends as "the ultimate soccer mom" was sentenced to jail for stealing more than $75,000 from the Valley Soccer Club. She had used the club’s ATM card to siphon off funds during her four-year tenure as treasurer. It was her successor who discovered the fraud.

That such large sums can be stolen for so long before anyone notices begs the question of how prevalent smaller-scale thefts are that go undetected.

In an article about the problem in Crain’s Detroit Business, Sherri Welch outlined BASIC FINANCIAL CONTROLS nonprofits should have in place to guard against embezzlement of funds and other types of fraud, including:

* Transparency in all financial transactions.

* Requiring the signature of more than one person on checks.

* Non-staff oversight of finances.

* Regular board reviews and audits of finances and tax filings.

* Independent reviews of financial procedures, controls and policies to provide strong financial safeguards.

* Policies that encourage employees/board members to come forward as soon as possible with credible information on illegal practices or violations of policies.

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer with Rockridge SC in Oakland, Calif. His youth articles are archived at

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  1. Gerard McLean
    commented on: March 18, 2010 at 11:31 a.m.
    We just wrote and published an article for our blog on this very issue for soccer tournaments, with some specific advice on how to control money. Will be adding a link to this story as well. Thanks!
  1. Matthew Johnston
    commented on: March 18, 2010 at 2:25 p.m.
    All the steps that Mike Woitella notes help, but if you do only one thing, I suggest, as an attorney (and former manager of political action funds--also voluntarily funded), that the easiest way to prevent embezzlement is to have someone other than a person who can sign checks with the duty of balancing the checkbook every month. Embezzlement is not necessarily a crime of greed, but a crime of opportunity. Deny check-writers the opportunity to steal. I also suggest term limits for treasurers. The case of a woman who was treasurer for four years gives too much opportunity. I would think two years at max at any one term.

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