- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2006

From Girl Scout cookie cash to those zippered bags stuffed with soccer league dues, there’s more money going into the country’s youth groups — and the temptation to reach into the kitty is proving hard to resist for some parents, teachers and coaches who control the purse strings.

“I’ve heard it a hundred times,” said Fred Engh, president and founder of the National Alliance for Youth Sports, a Florida-based nonprofit that keeps an eye on youth sports. “What you have is sometimes somebody will look and say, ‘Wait a minute, I can do a little skimming here, and no one will know it.’”

In Chesterfield County, Linda Wiser Sadler was sentenced yesterday to five years in prison for pocketing $480,000 from the Richmond Metropolitan Youth Soccer League (RMYSL) while she served as the nonprofit’s treasurer.

Sadler, 58, spent the money on personal items, ranging from salon visits and Christmas decorations to her son’s college education.

Mr. Engh said the temptation to steal arises when volunteer organizations reel in large amounts of money, but have weak systems of checks and balances in place.

“All of a sudden, you have an organization that can have huge, huge amounts of money, and you have someone — a volunteer” in charge of the money, he said.

When organizations handpick someone to handle their checkbooks, the groups often “will take the first hand that is raised, and no one ever questions [that person’s] background,” Mr. Engh said.

“There begins to be a question of who is guarding the henhouse,” he said. “It is kind of almost an open-ended invitation for irregularities.”

Similar cases have popped up nationwide, where officials siphoned money from their Little Leagues’ treasuries to pay for groceries, car payments and season passes with preferred parking to professional soccer games.

The problem also has shown up in scout groups.

Last year, one of about 3,600 people who handled money for a local Girl Scout troop tried to take $4,500. The Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital is trying to recoup the money through a collection agency, said Laura Bassett, the group’s product-sales specialist.

“There is always someone if the temptation is offered,” she said. “It can happen.”

Ray Greenberg, president of the Virginia-based National Capital Soccer League, said the group avoids potential scams by making sure “at least three, or four” people look over the books.

“No one person has sole control of it,” he said. “That’s the problem with Sadler, she did it all.”

In December, Sadler pleaded guilty to 10 counts of embezzlement and computer fraud.

At a sentencing hearing yesterday, Chesterfield County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert J. Fierro Jr. said Sadler’s case was the most egregious embezzlement scam he had ever seen.

“It’s as bizarre as it is brazen,” he said. “One of the challenges for me prosecuting this case was grasping the scope of theft and betrayal … . It’s unfathomable.”

Sadler, a former Chesterfield County public schools employee and a disbarred lawyer, was treasurer of RMYSL for 12 years.

From 1998 to 2004, she stole from the league by inflating membership fees paid by soccer clubs and pocketing much of the league’s scholarship fund, which provided college tuition for former RMYSL players.

According to court copies of checks Sadler wrote, some of the embezzled funds paid her mortgage; bills from companies such as American Express and Pier 1 Imports; and tuition for Trinity Episcopal School and for Methodist College in Fayetteville, N.C., which her son attended.

“She has no excuse,” Mr. Fierro said. “This was simply extra money for her, extra money to fund her lifestyle.”

A judge sentenced Sadler to 20 years in prison, with all but 15 years suspended. He also ordered her to pay restitution to the league and undergo supervised probation for an indefinite period of time upon her release.

“I realize totally and completely I made really bad and selfish decisions,” Sadler told the judge. “I was not raised that way, and I do not know what got into my head.”

League officials caught on to Sadler’s scheme when vendors began complaining about bounced checks and unpaid bills.

Lynne Blain, a Richmond lawyer who was club president during part of Sadler’s tenure as treasurer, said Sadler diverted suspicion by offering to hire an auditor to trace the payments and saying the vendor, in one case, lost the checks.

Sadler admitted to stealing some of the money in a conference call with the league’s board members.

The league is no longer operating as a separate soccer league and has been forced to merge with an affiliate in Hampton Roads, Mrs. Blain said. Also, the scholarship fund no longer exists.

The league has sued Sadler; her husband, George Sadler; and Sadler’s son, Matt. An attorney for the league said that both the son and husband benefited from the scheme and that several of Sadler’s checks were made out to them.

Sadler’s attorney, Reginald Barley, has said that the son and the husband didn’t know about the scheme.

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