Brick Township officials and police have stepped up an investigation into the way Brick National Little League officials kept or didn’t keep the organization’s books.
“The township is doing an audit to quantify the amount of money that is unaccounted for,” Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis said at the Dec. 22 Township Council meeting.
Township Administrator Scott M. Pezarras called for more financial documentation from sports organizations — including proposed budgets, year-end bank statements, and income and expense statements — almost two years ago. If the organizations didn’t comply, they would be barred from using township-owned fields, he said.
“This is the only organization in town that uses township fields [that] we have had problems getting information from,” Acropolis said after the recent meeting. “I hope no one goes to jail. I hope it was just mismanagement. We have an auditor looking at the books.”
Brick police began investigating the league almost a year ago, the mayor said. League officials were advised in May to put financial safeguards in place, the mayor said.
Brick National officials took no action over the summer. The police went back in September and asked for the information again, Acropolis said.
“We don’t have audits or plans or budgets they are supposed to file with the state,” Acropolis said. “They haven’t done that.”
The township will not lease space to an organization that is the target of an ongoing police investigation, the mayor said.
Many parents of children who play in Brick National have already paid the fees for 2010, and Acropolis is concerned the money may already be gone.
“We have to protect the township and the taxpayers’ money,” Acropolis said. “I don’t know where all that bond money went. When people ask for refunds, there is no money there. We want audits, we want office documents, 5013(c)s,” he said. “You’re dealing with cash. There is not enough in checks and balances.”
The investigation has nothing to do with the parents of Brick National players, Acropolis said.
“There have been some very good people that have been in Brick National,” he said. “This is about people there at the time that didn’t want to ask questions. They were afraid they would lose teams or not become managers.”
The board of directors appoints team managers, and team managers are the only ones who can vote for the board, Acropolis said.
“It was a blackball list,” he said. “If you didn’t do what the president said, you’re going to have a problem. I just couldn’t wait for the organization to tell me whether they had the money for these kids and uniforms. They don’t have a receipt for anything.”
Brick National League President Al Contrucci, who took over the organization recently from Gary Hulse, sent an email to parents earlier this month.
Contrucci said it was unfair to prohibit people who have served on the Brick National Board before, from participating in the future.
“I have done nothing but try my very best for the children of this league,” Contrucci said in the e-mail. “I have always conducted myself with the utmost integrity. I feel the same way about a majority of … board members as well.
“I don’t feel that politics should be a part of any children’s baseball league,” he added. “But others feel that this is their best way to take advantage of the situation … so they can take over the fields that Brick National baseball has played on for over 40 years.”
Brick children who live on the south side of town will still be able to play Little League ball this year, no matter what happens to Brick National, Acropolis said.
“There’s another organization which has been running out of a park behind the Primary Learning Center,” Acropolis said. “It’s going to take anybody that wants to play baseball on township fields. Anybody that wants to play baseball on the south side of town will be able to play.
“I guarantee you that any organization that uses fields paid for by the taxpayers of Brick Township will be doing it in the right way,” Acropolis said. “When we ask for information, you’ve got to provide it.”
Brick National officials are trying to blame the township for the league’s problems, Councilman Anthony Matthews said at the Dec. 22 Township Council meeting. “We always follow the letter of the law. It’s a sad case. It’s going to be a black eye on all the organizations. We will not turn our backs when there’s problems.”
Acropolis recommended that no one who served on the past board of directors or with the past president be allowed on any new board. Parents should also be able to vote on Brick National decisions, he said.
“This is not an indictment of baseball,” he said. “This is not about baseball at all. This is about the mismanagement of an organization that may or may not be criminal. I guarantee you that any organization that uses fields paid for by the taxpayers of Brick Township will be doing it in the right way. When we ask for information, you’ve got to provide it. I want to make sure all the organizations that use the fields we paid millions for are using funds properly, not to line somebody’s pockets.
“Shame on the people that were there that didn’t demand to have that stuff counted in public,” Acropolis added. “This is kids’ money. This is money people donated, businesses donated, thousands of dollars. Where is it? That’s the question Brick National parents should be asking. Nobody can answer that question.”