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Battered Bears rebuild again

The Glendale Bears Youth Football and Cheerleading organization has begun the painful process of paying its debts after coming to terms with twice being defrauded of tens of thousands of dollars.

While the group has been making strides to reduce its financial burden, its leadership faces the challenge of rebuilding the community’s trust.

“We are going to pull together,” the group’s co-treasurer Maria Mota said. “We are not going to bend the rules. It has to run like an organization.”

Tina Marquez, the organization’s former president, pleaded not guilty this week to grand theft and forgery after allegedly embezzling $42,228 from March 12, 2009 to Sept. 30, 2010 from the organization.

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Glendale Bears’ new leadership ousted Marquez, who is serving a two-year prison sentence for disability insurance fraud, in October after parents expressed concerns about her alleged mishandling of the group’s funds.

Parents, who each paid more than $250 in enrollment fees, had grown frustrated when they noticed their money hadn’t paid for new uniforms and sports equipment.

But their frustrations also stemmed from having already gone through a similar financial struggle when the organization’s former treasurer, Louella Lucas Ragland, fled in July 2008 after embezzling more than $30,000. Ragland was convicted and ordered to serve three years of probation and refund the stolen money.

Community members and parents rallied to replace the loss and keep their kids on the playing field.

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While the group raised just enough money to continue playing, the organization’s debt carried on into the next season, leaving the children without new gear.

Last season, children played with used, tattered uniforms and football gear. The team also lost its home field at Hoover High School last season due to unpaid fees and had to bounce to Glendale High School.

“It felt like we were kind of an abandoned child,” said Araz Araradian, who enrolled his two sons in the group last season.

Determined to find out how the Glendale Bears could be broke again, the group’s leadership sought help from the Glendale Police Department.

Police eventually discovered that Marquez had been making unauthorized debit card purchases and cash withdrawals from the organization’s bank accounts, according to court documents.

With the organization’s money, she allegedly leased a vehicle, purchased music on iTunes, paid for dental visits, restaurants, groceries, clothing services and gas, and bought items that were sent to a California prison inmate, Glendale police Det. Robert Zaun said.

There was no indication Marquez was involved in the first embezzlement incident tied to Ragland, Zaun added.

“We would like to see justice for the organization and all of these families,” said Maricela Torres, the group’s new president.

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As Marquez faces new charges, Torres said she and the new board members are working hard to rebuild the organization’s standing in the community.

“She has ultimately stained the name,” Torres said.

The new board has established a system of checks and balances that allows parents to view their financial records, she said. The board also communicates more.

The group has begun chipping away at its debts, which includes outstanding fees to Sport Chalet, football field dues and bank overdraft fees, Mota said.

“Everything is documented,” she said. “Everything is accounted for. We have an open-book policy.”

The Glendale Bears — which this year will include two flag football teams, five tackle teams and four cheerleading squads —also was awarded a $10,000-grant from the nonprofit LA84 Foundation, which supports youth supports programs, board members said.

Players this season will be outfitted with new uniforms and equipment, and will call Glendale High School their home.

“We see nothing but positive for the 2011 season,” Torres said.
 

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