Police in Johnstown are warning residents about donating to the Johnstown Little Bills youth football league after several complaints that the league has been accepting money under false pretenses.
A news release sent out Wednesday by the Johnstown Police Department specifies there are two youth football leagues in the area: the longstanding Johnstown Little Football League, which has been around since the 1970s, and the newly formed Johnstown Little Bills. The Little Bills, according to police, is not a registered nonprofit organization and should not be accepting donations, despite how they had been advertising themselves.
Until Thursday morning, the league’s Facebook page, its only online presence, had labeled the group as a nonprofit organization. At some point Thursday morning, after the news release was made public the day before, it was changed to “youth organization.”
According to police and the leaders of the Little Football League, which is a registered nonprofit, the Little Bills league has been causing confusion in the community.
“People are signing up for Little Bills and then finding out that that’s not the league they wanted to put their kids in,” said Johnstown police Lt. David Gilbo. “And then when they ask for their money back, they’re being told no.”
According to a registration form used by the Little Bills, the cost to sign up for the league ranges from $50 to $100, depending on age, and $35 for cheerleading.
Gilbo said he knew of one family that had been reimbursed so far and another that was working on it. He did not release the total number of complaints.
In addition to families, he said, there may also be concerns with local businesses that have donated to the organization expecting to be able to write off the expense as a charitable donation.
Gilbo said he has talked with the league’s attorney and “strongly suggested” they cease and desist, warning the collection of money under false pretenses, if it’s not returned, could lead to criminal charges.
The founder of the Little Bills, Jason Snell, referred questions Thursday to his attorney, Allen Day of Johnstown. Day did not return requests for comment.
The Little Football League has been working to recover from the arrest of a former league president in March on charges of stealing nearly $5,000 from the organization, dealing a heavy blow to its finances and reputation. League Vice President Corey Brownell said the Little Bills’ conduct is “adding on to what was already a bad situation.”
“It has hindered our ability to do fundraising because people thought they already gave it to us,” said Little Football League President Dan Stearns.
According to Brownell and Stearns, as well as Gilbo, the Little Bills at one point collected money using cans with the Little Football League logo and sent registration forms to the Greater Johnstown School District also bearing the logo. They stopped using the logo at the request of the Little Football League.
“We just separated ourselves from them as much as possible and just tried to help the people who have contacted us about getting their money back and joining the correct league,” said Brownell, “because the way they did things was very deceitful.”
Snell, the Little Bills founder, worked as an equipment manager for the Little Football League last year before breaking away and deciding to start the Little Bills in December to “do things the correct way, according to him,” Gilbo said.
Stearns said he and other Little Football League leaders have tried to convince Snell the community couldn’t support two youth football leagues and the Little Bills was “a very bad idea.”
Gilbo said Snell accused the Little Football League and police of harassment, a charge both deny.
“The complaints themselves are not coming from the other league, it’s from parents in the community who have donated to this or gave money to them,” Gilbo said.
It’s unclear how much money has been donated to the Little Bills or how many players registered for the league. The Little Football League usually has about 135 to 140 members, including players and cheerleaders, said Brownell.
Since the arrest of former Little Football League president Eric J. Murphy in March, the league has restructured its board of directors and tightened its financial practices, Brownell said.
“We need three signatures now on any transaction,” he said. “There will never be an issue where money will be taken ever again. [Dan Stearns] has done a really good job of cleaning it up.”
Anyone with complaints or concerns about the youth football leagues is encouraged to contact the Johnstown Police Department at 736-4021.
“This is going to be an ongoing investigation for a brief period here to find out all the ins and outs,” Gilbo said. “Our main concern was that people understood there were two leagues and make sure they’re signing up for the right one.”
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Categories: News, Schenectady County, Sports