Sports blotter: special Baghdad edition

A tale of Little League corruption most foul
By MATT TAIBBI  |  May 22, 2006

Historical aside to the rain-soaked folks of New England: the Blotter this week comes to you from the scorching climes of pad 14 in Camp Liberty, Iraq, where I am embedded with the 615th MP “Bloodhounds” on assignment for Rolling Stone. If at any time during this column the text is interrupted by the notation “Holy shit!”, you may assume that a Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device — known to troops here by the sinister acronym VBIED — has exploded somewhere nearby, unnerving your jelly-legged sports columnist. The squad I’m embedded with is under the command of one Lieutenant Tara Mahoney, West Point graduate and native of Belmont, who is serving with great distinction. If you have friends or relatives serving in Iraq, please send them a note or call them today, as it has been an especially difficult few weeks, with attacks and bombings generally on the increase.

And now, back to the sports-crime news of the week ...

060519_blot1Little league–embezzlement charges
Here’s a story that probably didn’t make your local newspaper. In Aztec, New Mexico, a husband-and-wife team — a modern-day suburban Bonnie and Clyde — were busted on a series of fourth-degree-felony charges. Craig Mendor, 28, and wife Hali, 30, were hauled in on nine counts of embezzlement. They were charged with making more than $4000 in overdraft withdrawals on the account of the Aztec Baseball Association, the local Little League.

“It was an unfortunate situation,” said league president Clyde Ward. “It was unbelievable.” He added, “Everything will continue as usual.”

If this doesn’t sound like such a hot story to you, you’re right. Except for one thing. The Mendor case is just the latest episode in what has become a full-fledged national epidemic of Little League–embezzlement cases, usually involving a feckless parental conspiracy. The media coming-out party for Little League–embezzlement cases really occurred after the Martha Stewart trial, when one of the jurors in the case, Chappel Hartridge, drew the attention of the defense counsel with his post-trial assessment of Martha’s guilty verdict: a “message to the bigwigs.” Counsel investigating Hartridge’s background soon uncovered a wealth of derogatory material that was quickly distributed to the media, including, among other things, an anonymous tip that charged Hartridge with embezzling between $30,000 and $50,000 from a Bronx-based Little League. A police investigation ensued.

Meanwhile, around the country, embezzlement cases rapidly accumulated. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, one Jim Cole, 57, was busted and charged with embezzling no less than $100,000 from his local Little League. (What kind of Little League even has $100K to embezzle? Was it using solid-gold catcher’s pads?) This year in particular, the caseload accumulation has been rapid. Newburgh, New York: Little League president Tim Ingram discloses that “an unfortunate situation has been uncovered” with regard to the local Little League. Turns out upward of $68,000 has gone missing from its coffers. Despite outcry from community newspapers, no charges are filed. Maine, this February: a 35-year-old woman named Wendy Rogers is charged with embezzling from her town’s baseball league. Central Point, Oregon: Karen Evelyn Steadel, 35, indicted for embezzling $35K from local tee ball.

What does it all mean? And what’s next — tee-ball cocaine rings? High-priced athletes driving Cadillac Escalades into telephone poles on the way home from a night of crank and clocking strippers is one thing. But parents stealing from their own kids? Yikes. Stay tuned for more news on this.

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