Youth group works to recover missing cash

GLENDALE — Allegations of embezzlement have gripped a local youth football and cheerleading group that may have to cancel its 2008 season without at least $30,000 in missing funds.

According to leaders of the Glendale Bears Youth Football and Cheerleading organization, the organization's treasurer left town with the group's entire budget — estimated to be between $30,000 and $32,000 — in her personal banking account.

The future of their 2008 season, which was set begin Sept. 20, now hinges on whether Treasurer Louella Ragland returns from the Philippines Tuesday night with the money, as she had promised to do, Glendale Bears President Lynn Marquez said.

The issue first came to light in mid-July, when Ragland failed to show up at a meeting with Marquez to discuss the upcoming season and the group's financial state.

Days went by and the leaders of the Glendale Bears sports organization heard nothing from Ragland. The money was declared stolen as of July 29, and Marquez said she filed a police report on Friday night. Reports eventually surfaced that Ragland had fled to San Diego, then the Philippines to attend to the death of her father.

Meanwhile, 250 to 300 football players and cheerleaders between the ages of 6 and 14 might be without a fall season, which, if that happens, would be the first cancellation in the Bears' 39-year history, Marquez said.

The cancellation would affect players from Glendale, Highland Park, Eagle Rock, La Crescenta and Montrose, she said.

Hoping to keep the program afloat with a quick infusion of cash, Marquez and others organized a car wash on Saturday and solicited funds from donors and businesses who heard about the missing money from friends or family.

Mike Soracco, a parent of one of the Glendale Bears football players and employee with Rey-Crest Roofing and Waterproofing, asked his firm to donate money after learning of the alleged embezzlement.

Rey-Crest President George Reyes stepped forward with a $500 check, Soracco said, pushing the total received from companies to $2,500. Individuals also donated funds through checks and small donations at the car wash Saturday.

Highland Park resident Sal Costello, 31, wrote a check for $250 and brought his car to be washed Saturday after hearing that his cheerleading daughter might not have a 2008 season.

“This [car wash] is perfect,” he said. “We need all the help we can get. We'll do whatever it takes to keep the program going.”

As Costello fired verbal jabs directed toward Ragland, Glendale Bears former Vice President Steve Castro said she should be trusted to return with the money.

The volunteer organization, he said, is built on the strength of its 10 volunteer leaders, from the equipment manager up to the treasurer and president.

“This is a volunteer program, and a lot of this is based solely on trust,” Castro said. “We did everything we could; we have to give her the benefit of the doubt.”

Marquez said background checks performed on Ragland did not turn up anything suspicious, though doubts about Ragland's character began to surface when Marquez began inquiring about her past professional life.

Claims of working at certain jobs turned out not to be true, and Glendale Bears money ended up in Ragland's personal banking account.

Though many in the group say there was nothing they could have done differently, at least one parent said the missing funds highlight the need for more vigilance when large sums of money are in question.

“This is a good experience for them to learn that when it comes to money, you have to be careful,” said Addo Malekian, father of two Glendale Bears football players. “But they have to get the person who did this.”

Castro hopes Ragland will show up for a planned meeting Tuesday with the group. Marquez said she received e-mails from Ragland promising to come back, and that she would have done so sooner if inclement weather in the Philippines had not held her back.

Part of Castro's optimism lies in his relationship with Ragland's husband and the fact that she left for the Philippines without her four children.

“I talked to her husband, and he said she'll be back,” he said. “Why would she leave her kids?”

Marquez is less optimistic and agrees with Castro when he said that even if she returns, Ragland has no future with the Glendale Bears.

“[She] put us in a bad spot,” Castro said. “She's done.”


?JEREMY OBERSTEIN covers business, politics and the foothills. He may be reached at (818) 637-3215 or by e-mail at jeremy.oberstein@ latimes.com.

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