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Comptroller alleges improper Volunteer H.S. baseball fundraiser

Jeff Bobo • Mar 5, 2020 at 1:26 PM

CHURCH HILL — Attorney General Dan Armstrong said Wednesday he has not yet decided if he will prosecute a former Volunteer High School coach accused of launching an improper fundraiser that still has more than $1,200 missing.

A Tennessee Comptroller investigation report released publicly on Wednesday alleges that in 2017 the Volunteer High School head baseball coach at the time did not deposit at least $1,680 of proceeds received from a baseball fundraiser, failed account for its use, and failed to pay $880 due to the fundraiser vendor.

Armstrong told the Times News on Wednesday he will study the report, and if a decision is made to prosecute, it would likely be initiated by a presentment to a Hawkins County grand jury.

The state comptroller’s office investigated allegations of malfeasance after officials with Hawkins County School District reported concerns about an unauthorized fundraiser conducted by a former head baseball coach. 

Strengthened our steps for fundraiser approvals

Director of Schools Matt Hixson told the Times News on Wednesday that the comptroller’s report completely exonerated Hawkins County Schools of any wrongdoing.

“This investigation and the subsequent findings were aimed at a prior VHS coach who facilitated an unapproved fundraiser, received funds, and then resigned his position,” Hixson said. “Upon discovery of the funds, administration immediately reported the issue and contacted those who donated. We are proud of our administrative and financial staff who acted swiftly to alert the proper authorities and contact parents involved.”

Hixson added, “Although this occurred a year and a half ago, we immediately added and strengthened our steps for fundraiser approvals and accountability practices.”

Comptroller report findings

The report states that the coach, whose name wasn’t released, organized a fundraiser involving Volunteer High School baseball players in July 2017, in which the players sold community discount coupon cards accessed through a cell phone application.

School officials did not discover the fundraiser until they found $420 in uncashed checks in the coach’s desk after he left the school system’s employment in December 2017.

Investigators were told that the coach held a parent meeting in summer 2017 to discuss the fundraiser and that money, including cash, would have been turned in to the coach.

Investigator analysis of vendor records indicated that the coach should have collected at least $1,260 in addition to the $420 in checks found in his desk for a total of $1,680. School officials located cash totaling $6.45 from an unknown source in the coach’s desk after his employment at VHS ended.

No other cash was ever recovered. Available records, including a listing of app access codes provided to team members for distribution, were insufficient for investigators to make a definitive determination of the amount of fundraiser proceeds actually collected and retained by the coach.

Unpaid debt to fundraiser vendor 

The coach incurred a debt of $880 in the name of the Volunteer High School Baseball program with a vendor as a result of the unauthorized fundraiser. The school subsequently discovered that the coach had not paid the vendor when it received the outstanding fundraiser invoice.

The school did not pay the invoice. State law and Hawkins County School Board policies require schools and school support organizations to obtain approval prior to conducting fundraising activities involving students and/or the use of the school name or facilities. 

A representative of the fundraiser vendor stated that the coach had initially represented to her that the fundraiser was sanctioned and being handled by the baseball team’s booster club. Booster club officials stated, however, that the club had not approved and was not involved in this fundraiser. The booster club also did not pay the invoice. 

The vendor made numerous documented attempts to discuss the matter with the coach including phone calls to his personal cell, prior to sending the matter to a collection agency.

Coach denies knowledge of unapproved fundraiser

The former coach reportedly told investigators that he was not aware of the fundraiser and never collected any funds for it, and that any funds he might have collected at Volunteer High School would have been from other fundraisers.

The Comptroller’s report stated that the coach’s statements were inconsistent with documentation and emails from the vendor, conversations with parents and school officials, and the existence of checks located in his desk.

The coach claimed no responsibility for the unauthorized fundraiser. When he spoke to Comptroller investigators, however, he offered to pay off the vendor debt in monthly installments of $20.

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