SPOKANE, Wash. -- The former president of the Spokane Valley Pop Warner Association pleaded guilty to stealing $24,000 that was supposed to go toward helping kids play football.
The case was closed in June but it took more than a year for the City of Spokane to complete a public records request 2 On Your Side submitted to find out details of the case.
Johnson Marsalis was President of the Spokane Valley Pop Warner Association from June 2014 to July 2016. During that time, he embezzled roughly $24,000 from the association that was supposed to go toward helping kids play football and participate in cheer. Instead, that money was used for things like eating out, shopping, landscaping and to pay for his divorce attorney.
The theft actually happened from 2014 to 2016 during the time he was president of the Spokane Valley Pop Warner Association and coached a traveling youth baseball team. Marsalis' scheme to embezzle money went unnoticed for more than a year.
The Spokane Valley Pop Warner Association has a bank account setup with Mountain West Bank. But Marsalis opened a separate account in March 2015 under the Spokane Valley Pop Warner Association name with Washington Trust Bank. This allowed him to deposit checks made out to the organization into an account only he knew about.
Spokane Valley Pop Warner first saw signs of possible fraud in connection with Marsalis in July 2013 when they noticed a debit card charge in one of the football team's accounts for an online adult website, Adult Friend Finder. When they asked Marsalis about it, he said an assistant coach was in charge of the account, it was a mistake and that he would take care of it.
The second indication of fraud came a year later in 2014, when they noticed two charges for gas on the main account. Again, they asked Marsalis about it and he said it was a mistake and that he must have used the wrong card and he would refund the money. But it was not until July 2016 that the association discovered Marsalis' separate bank account. As soon as they found out about it, Marsalis was taken off all team accounts and removed as president.
“It caught us off guard, you know the judge rendered his decision, so unfortunately there's not much we can do with that, but I know going forward right now, he paid all of his money back to us, so we have all that money back, so we can move on," said current Spokane Valley Pop Warner President Darin Danekas.
Marsalis was ordered to pay back the money he stole. Bank records show more than $26,000 was filtered through the account. Police believe he stole approximately $22,500 to $24,500 from Spokane Valley Pop Warner and the rest was stolen from his traveling youth baseball team.
Bank records show more than $5,000 was withdrawn in cash. Marsalis said he used this for personal incidentals. More than $10,000 was used for things like Avista, Nordstrom Rack, Reliable Credit, Vera Water and Power, Amazon, Wittkopf Landscaping, and Cooney Law Office. Police said $9,000 was used for baseball related expenditures. Then a couple thousand dollars was used for miscellaneous items such as Kimmel Athletic, Trophy Kits, WA DOR business License and the Spokane Indians. Finally, $35,000 was spent on baseball and personal incidentals. This is all money from cash, checks, both football and baseball related fees, donations and fundraisers.
In June 2014, the association confronted Marsalis about a missing $3,500 that was raised through their annual golf fundraiser. He claimed the money was stolen out of his truck. When questioned about the theft by police, Marsalis said in 2015 he was going through a divorce and that is was causing financial duress.
Marsalis was initially charged with first degree theft, second degree theft, and money laundering, which are felonies. But, because he was willing to pay back the entire amount he stole up front and because of his lack of criminal history, he pleaded guilty to third degree theft in June 2017, which is a misdemeanor.
“It's up to the judge to make the decision, the main important thing was just that we got our money back," Danekas said.
Since the theft, the Spokane Valley Pop Warner Association said they have moved on and had two successful seasons. They want people to know they removed Marsalis immediately and he has no longer affiliated with them.
"We've had great success in our program the last two years and can reassure you the funds are accounted for and we're looking to continue to grow and supply a great fundamentally sound program for our kids," Danekas explained.
Spokane Valley Pop Warner said they have great board members who have put steps in place to make sure something like this can't happen again.
"It's more transparent now, so we meet once a month and we go over our finances and see what money is coming in and out and work on a budget. But, it's more hands on, so we have more than just one person looking at those numbers we have at least three or four on our board that are in charge of money coming in and out of the organization," Danekas said.
The goal of the organization is to help kids play football and participate in cheer. They said the money Marsalis stole has been repaid and was put toward programs for the kids. They hope what one person did does not reflect poorly on their entire organization.
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