A Payson couple is accused of fraud for not paying umpires they hired to staff Little League baseball and softball games throughout the East Valley.
William Werner, 44, and Bonnie Huffman, 40, owners of Arizona Desert Umpire, were arrested at their home on suspicion of 35 counts of fraudulent schemes on Tuesday, according to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.
The Little Leagues, which included Desert View in Mesa, Apache Junction, San Tan and Queen Creek, paid more than $36,000 last year to provide umpires for games. But Arizona Desert Umpire still owes 35 umpires more than $25,000, according to the sheriff’s office. Werner and Huffman’s company was contracted to provide East Valley Little League baseball games with umpires but failed to follow through with paying the umps, who range from high school students to retirees, according to the sheriff’s office.
After one of the victims complained to authorities about not being paid, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation into Werner and Huffman in May 2009, about the time they closed their business, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio told the Tribune on Wednesday.
Four of the Little Leagues throughout the East Valley who were allegedly duped included Desert View in Queen Creek, Apache Junction, San Tan Softball Little League and Queen Creek, and included at least 35 victims who were supposed to be paid $40 a game, Arpaio said.
“It is a sad day when these types of criminals start taking advantage of a great American pastime like Little League baseball,” Arpaio said. “It’s ripping off our young people who are involved in sports, or it translates to ripping off kids. We’re dealing with kids from 6 to 12 years old. One of the leagues almost folded because the umpires weren’t being paid, and the parents had to step up and umpire the games. The games continued, but the umpires should’ve been paid.”
San Tan Softball Little League paid Arizona Desert Umpire $4,000 to provide about 12 umpires for games, but when the umpires stopped showing up because they weren’t getting paid, the league lost an estimated $12,000 in revenue and experienced a 20 percent drop in players because of frustrated parents, according to Bill O’Brien, president of the San Tan Softball Little League. San Tan fields 15 teams throughout Mesa and Gilbert.
“We’d have our games and the umpires wouldn’t show up,” O’Brien said. “It kind of threw the league into a tailspin and it caused some damage to the league that takes a long time to repair. It was a bad reflection on the board because a lot of parents didn’t understand what was going on, and they and the kids were getting frustrated.”
O’Brien said another organization stepped up and provided umpires for the remainder of the season at no cost.
Investigators discovered more than $53,000 was deposited into Arizona Desert Umpire’s business account. But Werner and Huffman have spent the majority of the money for personal expenses such as rent and fast food, according to the sheriff’s office.
Werner and Huffman were being held in the Maricopa County Fourth Avenue Jail, and Huffman posted $1,800 bail, Arpaio said.