LOYAL leaders respond to grand larceny charges against former commissioner

Posted 17 June 2015 at 12:00 am

By Howard Balaban, Correspondent

MEDINA – Elijah Howard, former commissioner of Medina LOYAL Football and Cheerleading, was arraigned Monday in Ridgeway Town Court on charges of grand larceny in the third degree. According to the Orleans County District Attorney’s Office, Howard allegedly embezzled $6,000 from the youth league.

The charges were brought forth after a several-month-long joint investigation by the Orleans County Sheriff’s Office and the Major Felony Crimes Task Force. According to the Sheriff’s Office, a person associated with the league alerted them to possible wrongdoing, and the investigation led to Howard’s arrest in connection with fraudulent purchases made with the league credit/debit card.

Howard was remanded on $6,000 bail, which he posted. He is scheduled to appear in Ridgeway Town Court again on Friday at 10 a.m.

Regarding the alleged crime, District Attorney Joe Cardone said it is not uncommon for such organizations.

“When you have groups or associations that have inadequate accountability, it’s not unusual to have something like this happen,” he said. “You need to have checks and balances in place.”

As for LOYAL Football and Cheerleading, the organization put a new board of directors in place this past December in an effort to turn the tide and make things right.

“We’re moving forward,” said Lucas Silversmith, the new commissioner. “No one from the previous board is on it now.”

Silversmith explained that anomalies in the league’s finances were first brought to his attention by LOYAL Baseball commissioner Chris Goyette. The leagues operate separately, but file taxes jointly.

Goyette said LOYAL’s roots were in a number of youth sports and the organization had one main governing board and several sport-specific boards. As the original group slowly saw its children age out of the programs, most of the sports were left to run themselves, with football and baseball the last two standing and left to report to only themselves.

“The first year I became heavily involved in baseball I noticed there was a problem with our taxes,” Goyette recalled. “The state had changed the regulations for non-profit organizations.”

He explained how certain monetary thresholds had changed without anyone realizing it, leading to LOYAL Baseball having to get its house in order. It has and has recouped almost all of the money it lost during that time.

That experience is what led Goyette to alert Silversmith and the new board of the issue on the football side of things.

“Last May I needed to sign off on the taxes,” he stated. “Football’s hadn’t been filed and I was disturbed because I didn’t want our organization in trouble again.

“I noticed activities where I didn’t expect to see activities, and saw what I thought were a favorable amount of questionable uses of the ATM,” Goyette said.

Once made aware of the possible issue, Silversmith said he made it his priority to fix things.

“It was the first thing we did as a new board,” he said, referring to a review of league finances. Silversmith added that he reached out to the Sheriff’s Office regarding the issue, but found out that it was “already under investigation.”

He noted, “They just asked me to give them permission to look into our accounts, and we’ve cooperated fully. As a non-profit organization we should have nothing to hide.”

An official from the Sheriff’s Office did note the “totally cooperative” nature of LOYAL football during the investigation.

Silversmith said one of the problems with the prior LOYAL Football boards may have been the lack of access to league accounts.

“That was also one of the first things we did – go over our bank statement at every board meeting,” Silversmith noted. “The statement is available to our officers because we need to see what we’re doing, what we’re approving.”

While Silversmith said he is unsure how far back the problem went, he also was quick to point out that the league’s efforts in the past several months have led to an increase in registered participants and a decrease in equipment costs.

“Financially, we’re probably the best we’ve been in a long time,” he said. “My wife, Monica, has been in charge of fundraising this year and we’ve done some things that haven’t drained parents.”

Among those have been some dances at Medina’s Wise Middle School, “giving kids something to do and parents a chance to maybe go out to eat,” Silversmith said.

The new financial model of the league has allowed the board to purchase some new helmets and put itself in position to purchase more as they need replacing.

“The old equipment guy always told me the league didn’t have the money, but we’re raising it now, getting new top-of-the-line concussion helmets,” Silversmith stated. “The new board is really stepping up.”

Moving forward, Silversmith said the biggest thing he can offer to the public as a show of trust is transparency in league accounting. “We want to make sure we don’t let this happen again and that we have every dollar accounted for,” he said.

As for the league itself, the final day of registration is Sunday at Junior Wilson’s on Bates Road from noon to 2 p.m. Registration costs are $60 per child as opposed to $75 last year.

The equipment costs for football have dropped a little, while cheerleading equipment costs have been slashed by almost two-thirds thanks to the fundraising efforts of the past six months.

“It’s great to have so many people come forward to right a wrong, because the whole thing is about the kids,” Silversmith commented. “We need to keep our focus there, and that’s one of the reasons we wanted lower prices – to get more people involved.

“We play teams like Batavia and Newfane, and compared to us those teams have money,” he continued. “We lose a lot of kids who are great athletes because they’re priced out of playing.”

Regarding the lost money, Silversmith simply stated, “I hope we can recover it.”