VISTA -- Some teams held potlucks instead of post-season awards banquets. Other teams had to rely on their parents to foot the bills for team travel to championship games. Those were expenses the players and their parents had already raised money for, but the money was gone.
The Vista Pop Warner youth football organization claims it was ripped off.
"The minimum appears to be about $55,000. It could be as much as $100,000, but the investigation is still going on," said Ken Elliott, who coaches a team for the league and just happens to be a lawyer.
Vista Pop Warner needed a lawyer.
Team 10 approached Elliott after an angry and frustrated parent told us someone had cleaned out Vista Pop Warner's bank account. That parent asked us to keep their name confidential for fear of reprisals from league organizers.
Elliott confirmed the parent's fears. He told Team 10 vendors had begun calling board members and asking why they weren't being paid for services. As the board began looking into it, they discovered thousands of dollars were missing and checks were bouncing.
Now, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department is investigating what Elliott calls the "misappropriation of funds" by a board member.
Before getting law enforcement involved, Elliott drafted a letter to the board member suspected of using the funds for personal gain. The letter demands the money be returned, as well as any receipts and banking records. He gave Team 10 a copy of the letter, with the board member's personal information deleted.
Elliott claims the board member denied taking any money and said they didn't have any records.
Team 10 was able to see some of the checks, totaling $93,700, that were written as "reimbursements." Although we were only able to see six of the actual checks, Elliott said all 30 were written to the same board member. One of them, for $5,000, was written two days before Christmas.
Team is declining to identify that person because they haven't been charged with anything.
The accused board member called the claims "a witch hunt" and said in a series of emails that they had done nothing wrong. The board member told Team 10 in a series of emails that executive board members within the Vista Pop Warner organization "over-spent."
Several parents of Vista Pop Warner players told us they wish the investigation would move more quickly, or the accused would just return the money.
"I don't know how you can sleep at night and do that kind of thing," said Dave McGraw, whose son Donovan played for the Vista Pee Wee Panthers.
The Pee-Wee Panthers traveled to Las Vegas for the championships in December. Players and their parents said they raised money all season and deposited that money in Vista Pop Warner's account. When it was time to travel, there was no money.
"We had to pay everything out of our own pockets," said Dana Letua, a mom who says she still doesn't know if she'll ever be reimbursed.
There are vendors that are still owed money, too. Documents obtained by Team 10 show Vista Pop Warner owes Dick's Sporting Goods more than $15,000. The bill has gone un-paid for months.
"Those kids bust their butt each and every day at practice," said Letua, whose son also played for the Pee Wee Panthers. "How dare you take that money from those kids?" she asked aloud. "To me it's just disgusting."
At least one coach is said to have put more than $3,000 on his own credit card to make sure his players could go to the tournament. He still has not been reimbursed.
Eddie Quinones told Team 10 his son's team had to cancel the post-season banquet and hold a potluck instead.
"It makes me feel sad," said Quinones. "It makes me think of all the hours of volunteer work from the coaches, from the spouses of those coaches, letting them go and be with these kids 3, 4, 5 days a week, the late nights making cookies and brownies for bake sales, and going around and selling discount cards, and I think of my own kid calling grandparents and trying to raise funds for himself and how many philanthropist groups, social groups that gave our team money. It makes me sad that that was taken away from us."
As investigators track the money, Vista Pop Warner has begun signing up players for the 2016 season.
The cost for early registration is $325 per player. The regular cost is $375, but even at that price, Elliott says the organization is hoping for donations to get back on its feet.
Tax-deductible donations can be made at www.vistapopwarner.com.