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Arizona Daily Star (Tucson)

 


The former president of an association within a local nonprofit youth football and cheer league is under investigation for embezzling funds, officials said.

Steve Marshall was ousted as president of the Marana Broncos last February, a month before police began their investigation.

This isn't the first time Marshall has been accused of stealing money from an association within Tucson Youth Football and Spirit Federation. Court records show that Marshall and his wife were sued in 2005 in connection with stealing roughly $10,000 from the Oro Valley Dolphins, another team that he volunteered with.

Marshall did not immediately respond to the Star's request for comment on the situation. It's unclear if he has an attorney.

Tucson Youth Football and Spirit Federation is made up of 14 associations; each oversee several football and cheer teams for kids ages 5 through 14. The league expects 4,000 Southern Arizona children to sign up for roughly 200 teams this year.

The investigation into Marshall is a local example of what has become a national problem: Theft and embezzlement in the rapidly growing, $15.5 billion youth sports industry.

Last month, the Star discovered several issues with the tax filings of TYFSF associations, leading to a new league rule. All associations must now complete their tax returns with the oversight of local accounting firm BeachFleischman.

Investigation is still active

Marshall was reported to Marana police in March 2017. The case was transferred to the Oro Valley Police Department about a month later.

The case is still under investigation by Oro Valley police, Sgt. Carmen Trevizo, a department spokeswoman, told the Star. Marshall has not been charged with any crimes.

"It's a pretty involved investigation due to its complexity," Trevizo said, declining to comment further on the active case.

Members of the Broncos' board discovered irregular financial activity in late 2016 or early 2017, when Marshall was still the president, and hired an outside auditor to look over their books. TYF leadership was then made aware of the situation with Marshall. He was immediately suspended, TYFSF attorney Ali Farhang told the Star.

Marshall's suspension is pending the outcome of OVPD's investigation and all legal matters related to the alleged financial impropriety, Farhang said.

The Broncos' current president, Juliette Gutierrez, referred questions about Marshall to her husband and Broncos board member, Roland Gutierrez. He told the Star that the association can't comment yet.

Prior allegations of embezzlement

Marshall's first stint with the Broncos began in December 1995, when he signed on as president of the association. He remained there until November 1998, ACC records show.

In January 2001, Marshall returned to the league as statutory agent and president for the newly-formed Oro Valley Dolphins. He was out by February 2005, ACC records show.

Six months later, Marshall and his then-wife, Lisa, were named as defendants in a Pima County lawsuit that accused the couple of theft, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, racketeering and conspiracy.

The lawsuit says that between July 2004 and the spring of 2005, the Marshalls stole roughly $10,000 from the Dolphins by writing themselves checks and making purchases from the association's account, withdrawing cash with the association's credit card and failing to deposit cash payments delivered by parents.

In one incident, Steve Marshall attended a football tournament in Florida and used the Dolphins' money to bring his family with him, the lawsuit says. He promised other families that the team would pay for their travel as well, the lawsuit says.

A few months later, he organized a football game between the Dolphins and other teams that he called the Dolphin Bowl. Marshall ordered lights and hired referees, the lawsuit says, but failed to secure any opponents for his team. The association was stuck paying nearly $1,500 for lighting equipment and football officials, the lawsuit says.

Marshall settled the lawsuit with the association for a portion of the money owed, said Adam Watters, the attorney who represented the Dolphins in the lawsuit.

Watters said he thought Marshall had been permanently banned from TYFSF. However, ACC records show that Marshall was back as the Broncos' president by September 2009. He remained there until March 2017, when he was replaced by Juliette Gutierrez.

TYF commissioner Julius Holt was unable say why Marshall was allowed back into the league.

Tax filings changed

The Broncos recorded $131,725 in gross revenue during the 2007 tax year, according to the organization's returns. The team did not file tax returns over the next three years, and the IRS took away their tax-exempt status in 2011.

In 2012, after their nonprofit status was restored, the Broncos began filing tax returns in the form of a 990 postcard, which is designated for organizations that bring in less than $50,000 in annual revenue.

Weeks after Marshall's October ousting, the Broncos filed their 2017 tax return. The team recorded $107,056 in revenue.

Marshall's footprint within Tucson football extends further than just TYFSF. He also works as a volunteer assistant football coach at Canyon del Oro High School.

New leadership, oversight at TYFSF

Holt, a former Arizona Wildcats football player, took over as TYFSF commissioner about a year ago. He has since begun implementing a number of changes and oversight mechanisms. TYFSF now has a new policy regarding domestic violence allegations that states anyone with pending domestic violence charges will be immediately suspended from the league.

While every volunteer within TYFSF is subject to an annual background check performed by the league, it's up to each association to select its own board members and set bylaws, policies and procedures. Each association's board is responsible for reporting wrongdoing to the TYFSF board. That doesn't always happen promptly, Farhang said.

"We want to make sure these kids are having a good experience," Holt told the Star. "We're trying to do better."

Each year, all football and cheer coaches undergo training and certification by USA Football, in addition to league training and certification.

The five-hour USA Football course, called "Heads Up Football," will take place in Tucson June 9. The course covers issues such as concussion recognition and response, heat preparation and hydration, sudden cardiac arrest, proper equipment fitting, shoulder tackles and blocking.

TYFSF has previously been able to recommend best practices for issues like accounting and risk management to its associations, but it's been up to each association to implement these suggestions.

That could change soon. TYFSF is in the process of implementing a second layer of financial oversight, Farhang said.

"Over the last year to 18 months, the organization has fundamentally changed for the better," Farhang said. "Issues like those that occurred with Steve Marshall will not evade detection anymore."

Credit: Caitlin Schmidt Arizona Daily Star

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