KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It's the dirty little secret of youth sports teams: Bad coaches and managers can thrive because those they hurt often won't talk.
"We may have never seen a penny, but this guy can't do this to anyone else," said Shane Heit.
She's talking about Brett Vilott, the former coach of her son's Phenom Baseball team.
Heit and more than a dozen other families say they paid Vilott about $2,000 each for their sons to be part of a competitive baseball league. Heit said that from the start there were problems. She said Vilott rarely showed up to practices.
"There was always an excuse," Heit said, adding that Vilott would often send parents rambling emails in the middle of the night.
Then the uniforms never came -- even though other teams had already started playing in tournaments. Vilott's excuses finally unraveled when parents contacted tournament organizers, only to discover their sons were never even registered to play.
Parents yanked their sons from the team and demanded Vilott return their money. So far, no one has seen a dime.
FOX 4 Problem Solvers reached Vilott by phone. He says he's innocent and that every complaint about him is a lie. He said parents pulled their sons off his team because it was too demanding of a program.
He also claims that he did order the uniforms, but donated them to an inner city baseball league.
What makes Heit most angry is that her efforts to check out Vilott with other sports teams and associations (when problems first surfaced) were always met with silence. Parents finally hired attorney Paul Morrison. That's how they learned that Vilott had a criminal record for using illegal drugs. Heit wishes someone had warned her.
"No one wanted to talk," she recalled. "It was just a secret. Why are you hurting so many other families by not speaking?"
What FOX 4 discovered is that in many youth sports leagues, coaches viewed as problems are simply asked to leave.
Bob Williams is an example. The Blue Springs Athletic Association let him go as an assistant football coach after he asked parents to pony up hundreds of dollars extra for equipment he claimed would better protect their second graders from injury. Williams' wife was to handle the money.
Believing she had no choice, Taylor Applebury paid the $350 for her son. But other parents complained to the association about feeling pressured to pay extra for gear their $185 entry fee should have covered.
"He flat out told us in front of our children that if we did not buy these pads and helmets that he felt were better, then we did not care about our children's safety," said mom Jessica Laffler, who was so mad she walked out of the meeting. "They wanted almost $6,000 from 15 sets of parents."
The league warned parents not to give Williams any money and asked him to resign. Williams did, but never returned the money he had taken from Applebury. What parents learned later is that Williams has felony convictions for writing bad checks. Williams told FOX 4 that shouldn't matter.
"I have misdemeanor felonies," Williams said. "They are not felonies you would think are dangerous."
Problem Solvers asked Williams why he hadn't returned Applebury's money. He said his reasons would be covered in his lawsuit against the Blue Springs Athletic Association.
We found no lawsuit filed. In fact, when we spoke with Williams he was at the Jackson County Courthouse in Independence because of a lawsuit filed against him and his family's concrete business. The suit accuses them of not doing the work they were paid for.
Williams later told us he would return Applebury's money once the Blue Springs Athletic Association refunded the money he had paid for his son to play football.
Applebury said the whole experience has left her disillusioned about youth sports. She thought joining a team would be a good way to provide her son with a positive male role model after his father died last year. Now she's not so sure.
"I don't feel so much taken advantage of, "she said, "as I feel (Williams) has taken advantage of my son."
Tips to protect your money and child when looking for a sports team:
- Find out what other teams the coach has worked for and try to talk to parents from those teams.
- Before handing over money, make sure there are two (unrelated) people on the bank account to provide a system of checks and balances.
- Make sure the sports league or association conducts background checks and ask what those checks include.
- Be wary of coaches who try to segregate your team from other teams in the league.