New York AG Accuses Basketball Academy of Fraud

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. (CN) – Private prep programs charge big bucks to educate and train young, high-level basketball players for competitive college programs and professional leagues like the NBA. Many do. But some such schools have developed poor academic or business reputations, earning the nickname “basketball factories” from the Chicago Tribune in 2017.

This week in New York, authorities filed suit to put a stop to what they allege is a particularly egregious case where hoops hopefuls were served food that contained hair and flies, and signed up for a “high school” that was not accredited.

Petitioning for an injunction in Broome County Supreme Court, Attorney General Barbara Underwood wants the New York International Academy to stop operating immediately and repay the customers it defrauded.

The academy’s legal name is AAUConnect.com, and Underwood also named husband-and-wife operators Chris Bevin and Hazel Ward as co-respondents to the petition.

“Respondents advertise on their website that they operate the #1 post-graduate boys and girls basketball programs in the Northeast and ‘the best in upstate New York’ … [when] Respondents’ programs have never been rated, much less highly-rated, by any third-party organization,” the Sept. 17 petition states.

As for the academy’s claim of offering a top-rated program for girls’ basketball players, Assistant Attorney General Michael Danaher Jr. notes that in fact the Endicott outfit has no girls’ program at all.

Women’s professional basketball is overall a much less lucrative business than men’s. The average WNBA salary this year is around $75,000 while the minimum NBA salary — for a rookie — is over $838,000, according to The Conversation and Bleacher Report.

Danaher’s petition asserts that Bevin and Ward run the business from outside the U.S., describing themselves as CEO and an admissions counselor, respectively.

Though they promise top-quality coaches, nice apartments and a “private restaurant” to young hoopsters, the petition says the coaches’ qualifications were at times unknown and that some players were put up either at a hotel or a “rundown, filthy house.”

They were allegedly served “bland” meals — which in some cases included flies or hair, according to the petition — from a “local cook” rather than the top-flight chef they had been promised.

The academy’s website proclaims a priority on education, according to the petition, with enrollees given the potential to take SAT prep and TOEFL courses, as well as raise their GPAs and earn college credit. The NCAA mandates a minimum GPA for athletes to be eligible to play in college.

But Danaher says the high school that the academy purports to offer has never been accredited by the New York State Department of Education. Indeed one private high school whose building was pictured on the academy’s website complained about the misleading association, prompting the academy to take the picture down.

Danaher says the academy also did not advertise all the costs of attendance.

“Although Respondents advertise the price of tuition, they fail to clearly and conspicuously disclose that they charge an additional cost for the mandatory meal plan (most recently $3,000) and apartment/key deposits (recently $350),” the petition states.

Participants are also not warned that all payments are nonrefundable.

The attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. In an email for which the sender’s username was “Coach Bevin,” Bevin described himself as the business owner and Ward as a volunteer. He said he had received “the letter from the state attorney” and would reply to it later Wednesday.

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