Softball fundraising probe at Valencia HS ramps up with paperwork

The William S Hart Union High School District office. Dan Watson/The Signal
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A sheriff’s probe into complaints from parents of Valencia High School students about fundraising for the school’s softball team ramped up this week as the detective assigned to the case began wading through several recently acquired documents.

In May, Detective Mike Marino of the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s Fraud and Cyber Crimes Bureau began following up on a written complaint about the fundraising of the Valencia High School softball team.

The detective stressed at the time, however, that he hadn’t had a chance to assess the merits of the complaint.

This week, Marino obtained paperwork which he hopes will help him make that assessment.

“We’re still investigating,” he told The Signal.

“I just received a ton of pages of documents,” he said.

During the same month that he began his investigation, officials with the William S. Hart Union High School District who were asked repeatedly to confirm whether or not they received a formal complaint from parents of Valencia High School students about fundraising for the school’s softball team, told The Signal they too were investigating the “situation.”

In May, when asked if the District had received a formal written complaint about fundraising for the Valencia High School softball team, District spokesman Dave Caldwell said:  “The district does not comment on personnel related items.”

Four months into the LASD probe, any insight into the complaint, its subsequent probe and whether or not any action has been pursued by the District remains scant.

On Tuesday, Caldwell was asked: “Have there been any updates or developments with regards to the LASD probe into fundraising carried out by the Valencia High School softball team?”

He told The Signal: “I haven’t heard a single thing regarding it.”

Phone and email messages left for coach of Valencia High School’s softball team this week – as in May – were not returned.

Raising money for high school sports teams became a thorny issue for the District in 2014 when parents of some students complained to the District, leading to an investigation and ultimately criminal charges of embezzling filed against the coach of Valencia High School’s baseball team.

Those parents are still reeling over the criminal arrest of former baseball coach Jared Snyder who pleaded guilty six months ago to one felony count of grand theft stemming from a criminal case rooted in fundraising for the baseball club.

The Snyder incident left District administrators wrestling over which “best practices” policy to pursue when it comes to money being raised in support of District sports teams.

Caldwell’s predecessor, Gail Pinsker, told The Signal in 2014, when news of Snyder’s administrative leave was announced that the District was working on “best practices” policy with regards to fundraising.

“The district has been reviewing these different mechanisms and is working to develop a preferred approach that allows for best practices, including checks and balances and oversight,” Pinsker said in a prepared statement.

On Apr. 26, Caldwell was asked by The Signal: “What is the District’s policy on booster clubs raising money for various sports teams and other school groups – i.e. band and choir?

Caldwell told The Signal the matter is up to the school not the District, saying: “The schools oversee the conduct of booster clubs and their ASBs.”

Booster club organizers have two ways to run their clubs’ funds: under private accounts or registering as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The choice is up to the club founders.

Both bookkeeping methods are legitimate, district-approved ways of supporting school teams and groups, Pinsker pointed out in 2014.

Caldwell was asked which bookkeeping methods the Valencia Softball team uses and whether or not the school’s softball team has a booster club.

His response: “I don’t have the answers to those questions.”

The Saugus Union School District, on the other hand, was into the second reading of its policy being developed for governing “school-connected” organizations that might collect money, like school booster clubs

As for Snyder, in November he agreed to complete 300 hours of community service and to pay the $14,129 in restitution to the Valencia High School before he is sentenced on May 9, 2018,” Jane Robison, former spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, said at the time.

Most of the time extended to the former baseball coach to complete his court orders – 18 months – has now past.

Snyder returns to court in eight months.

 

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on Twitter @jamesarthurholt

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