LAKELAND, Fla. - Two top leaders of a popular Polk County youth baseball league were arrested this week, accused of stealing over $50,000 in funds, spending it on everything from cell phone bills to grocery orders.
Larry Blevins, the president of the Lakeland Highlands Babe Ruth Baseball League -- also known as Lakeland Highlands Baseball and Softball -- and his vice president, John Sprague, each face fraud and grand theft charges.
“They stole the children's money,” Sheriff Grady Judd said. “Did you hear me? Hardworking parents taking their children to the ballpark doing the right thing, teaching the children the value of competition and team play. That's all-American, that's the way things are supposed to be. And these two guys are stealing from these children that are having cake sales, candy sales, chocolate sales. They're stealing from the children!”
According to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, detectives began investigating after getting a tip in September of 2018. New league board members at that time had reviewed previous financial statements and discovered “discrepancies.”
Eventually, investigators say they learned that Blevins, 41, and Sprague, 39, had ordered debit cards connected to the league’s account and, for more than a year, used them to make purchases at places like Wal-Mart, 7-Eleven, Publix, Amazon, Burger King, Facebook, and Sunoco.
They also say Blevins paid his personal Sprint, Lakeland Electric, and Charter Communications bills with the card.
In all, detectives say, Blevins conducted transactions totaling $30,477.53 while Sprague conducted transactions totaling $26,052.59.
Board members confirmed that debit cards had not previously been used by the league, and none of the charges were authorized.
Sheriff Judd announced their arrests Friday.
"My anger is unending for these folks because they stole from the children," Sheriff Judd said.
“My anger is unending for these folks because they stole from the children,” he continued. “Because while all the parents are there doing all the right things and are to be applauded, our children were ripped off. There’s not enough bad things to say about these people.”
The league says it is continuing to cooperate with law enforcement while looking for new sponsors.
"We are working hard to rebuild the park to what it once was. We have re-implemented the strict standards needed to prevent this from happening," current league president Steve Ousley said. "We have a great community, a motivated board of directors, amazing coaches, players, and families who are all joining with us to make our park the very best it can be."