Families sue after baseball club withholds reimbursements

Target 8

WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — Families once associated with a West Michigan travel baseball and softball organization are questioning the president’s motives after he froze player accounts and opened his own business less than two months later.

Target 8 has been investigating Marc Uturo and his role as president of the West Michigan Outlaws. Parents of players reached out after he stopped a reimbursement system they had relied on for several years. 

“It’s just frustrating because this isn’t just an easy fundraising thing,” Randy Anderson, a coach who spent a decade with the organization, told Target 8. “This is something that takes up parents’ time in the evening, weekends. They work hard for it, were responsible, so it’s just frustrating that, especially with some of the amounts of money that were lost, it’s just disheartening.”

Anderson helped organize an agreement between WMO and SAVOR, the food and drink vendor at Van Andel Arena, eight years ago. WMO parents could volunteer to work concession stands during various events and money paid to WMO for the staffing would then be disbursed into player accounts.

Parents could then turn in receipts to the board treasurer to be reimbursed for costs associated with playing on a travel team, like hotel stays and uniforms.

“I thought it was a great idea to offer it to my parents, to add money to their kids’ accounts to help pay for the travel expenses,” Anderson explained. 

Over the years, more and more families began working events to help make things more affordable. Parents and coaches Target 8 spoke to had nothing but positive things to say about the arena and vendor. 

CHANGE IN LEADERSHIP

At the end of the 2019 summer season, families were notified WMO President Marc Uturo was removing the current board and replacing them with his family members. 

A letter Uturo sent out Sept. 4 stated in part, “In July 2019, it came to WMO’s attention that monies donated to WMO through fundraising events at the Van Andel Arena through the company SAVOR, were inappropriately used by a select number of WMO board members and teams to pay or reimburse parents for out-of-pocket expenses incurred during the past few travel season…”

The letter continued, “…After seeking the advice of legal and tax counsel, as a nonprofit organization, WMO cannot and will not pay any monies directly to any individual as the funds were donated to WMO. Doing so is not only strictly against WMO policy, but also a direct violation of the Michigan Nonprofit Corporations Act… Instead, any monies donated to WMO will be held by WMO and used solely in furtherance of its state mission as a nonprofit organization…”

The change blindsided families and coaches, Anderson said.

A former board member who did not want to be named shared bank statements from the end of July 2019 connected to two accounts. Both were transferred to Uturo’s control once he removed the board in August. Together they totaled $96,693.21, funds associated with an organization that had two dozen teams averaging 11 players per roster. 

It’s not clear if the accounts are still active, but online records still list WMO as a nonprofit in Michigan.

Since the announcement, most teams have moved to outside travel organizations. 

Two families filed complaints in Wyoming small claims court. A judge ruled WMO must pay them back for the amounts itemized in court filings last month.

“I feel good (the judge) ruled in our favor, I just hope (Uturo)’s going to do the right thing and give us our money back,” Kerry Matthysse told Target 8. “I don’t know if he will, but I hope he will.”

Matthysse and her husband worked 43 events over six months to help offset costs for their daughter to play. They were awarded more than $2,000 in small claims court Jan. 21. As of Monday, they had not yet received their reimbursement. 

“That’s a lot of time and a lot of hours away from our family just to not be reimbursed for everything,” she explained. “It’s not fair. We did the work. He didn’t do the work, so technically it’s ours.”

NONPROFIT SHARES SPACE WITH FOR-PROFIT BUSINESS

According to online records, Uturo opened a new business, Bombers Hitting Club, at the end of October. Parents told Target 8 it was like twisting the knife.

“How he did that so quickly, where the money came from for that is what we’re questioning as well,” Matthysse said.

The space Uturo renovated for the club is the same warehouse off Clyde Park Avenue in Wyoming that the Outlaws have used to practice and train. The WMO logo sits under the Bombers logo on the doors, despite most families refusing to use the facility anymore. 

“It hurts that now that that facility is a different name,” Anderson told Target 8. “I think that is something he had to do out of desperation because all the teams quit when he did this.”

Target 8 has tried getting in touch with Uturo since the small claims judgement in January. The phone number listed on court filings is disconnected and the one listed on the club’s Facebook page connected to an automated message stating it has been changed. 

A woman inside the warehouse when Target 8 went by Monday afternoon confirmed an email Uturo uses, but messages Target 8 has sent were not returned as of early Monday evening.

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