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Little League Power Struggle Causes Hostile Split Among Group's Leaders

By  Eddie Small and Gustavo Solis | June 22, 2015 7:42am 

 The Bronx little league has been split in two in the wake of a legal fight over who controls the league.
Caribe Little League
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THE BRONX — A power struggle and accusations of misused funds by the organizers of a Yankees-sponsored Bronx Little League has divided the club in two and left both sides crying foul.

Miguel Vasquez, president of Caribe Baseball Little League Sport Inc., claims that members of the rival faction gave a city Parks Department official $220 worth of rum and had a barbecue blowout, spending another $200 of club money on beer.

Sonia Hernandez, a former treasurer and parent in the league, countered that Vasquez and his cohorts used the peewee baseball funds to jet back and forth between New York and the Dominican Republic.

Court documents also allege that Vasquez had suggested splitting the league's $23,000 amongst board members after the 2011 season.

“They withdrew the money,” said Hernandez. “Nobody knows where the money went. They did not put it back into the league.”

Vasquez said the money from the account was spent on equipment, electricity for park lights and legal fees. He also put $4,000 in escrow, which the judge recently awarded back to him, he said.

“If they have proof they should present it," Vasquez said, referring to claims that he misused Little League funds. "Those are all lies." 

A group of parents founded Caribe Little League in 1999, said Hernandez.

The league officially became Caribe Baseball Little League Sport Inc. in 2003 and began expanding around 2008 after it achieved nonprofit status and started attracting sponsors like the Yankees, she said.

“That’s when the league began to grow,” Hernandez said. “More money started coming into the league.” 

The league's bank account grew to as much as $23,000, she added.

Miguel Vasquez was president of the league from 2003 to 2008, but he stepped down in 2008 to take care of his sick wife and appointed Juan Dominguez as president.

In 2011, Vasquez wanted to return as president but Dominguez refused to step down. Dominguez declined to comment for this story.

Vasquez said the league was mismanaged and corrupt.

The Parks Department referred the $220 rum gift allegation to the city's Department of Investigation after DNAinfo New York asked about the receipt.

The DOI declined to comment.

According to the city's Conflict of Interest Board, city employees are prohibited from "not just the acceptance of the valuable gift in exchange for special consideration (an impropriety), but also the acceptance of the valuable gift period."

On Dec. 17, 2011, four board members of the league, including Vasquez, held a clandestine meeting where they elected themselves as the new board, giving them control over the roughly $23,000 in Caribe's bank account, according to court documents.

Hernandez and other members excluded from the election filed a petition against their colleagues on March 4, 2013, claiming that the election was illegal and that they had used “tactics of intimidation” to flout the laws of the league, including not providing annual financial statements and refusing to hold an annual board of directors meeting.

Vasquez had filed a petition of his own against Hernandez and other members of Caribe in March of 2012 stating that he had asked them for an account of all Little League money, which they refused to give him.

However, his money concerns were secondary to his worries about corruption. He said managers had started picking family members and friends' children for the teams instead of the best players and he did not want to see the league ruin its reputation.

“The problem is not about the money," he said. "It is about morality.”

On April 24, 2013, the court ordered the adults to resolve their dispute by holding a new election.

But Hernandez and the others did not show up to the Dec. 2, 2014 election because they believed it was a ruse by opposing board members, according to their attorney Bianka Perez.

“They showed me that notice, and I said, ‘Ignore that notice,’ the original notice,” she said.

“So they assumed they could ignore the second election notice, but the second election notice came from the lawyer.”

Perez acknowledged that ignoring the second notice was a mistake, as the court ruled on April 9 that the Dec. 2 election was valid, meaning her side lost the case.

The court also ruled that Hernandez and the other members had to provide an account of the money collected on behalf of Caribe Sport and turn over any funds and equipment that belonged to the league, which Vasquez said they had not done.

He says they owe batting machines, 4,000 practice balls, uniforms and a league car.

Angel Cruz, attorney for the victorious board members, maintained that their win in court disproved the claims that they had been mismanaging the league's funds.

“My clients were vindicated, and they have now prevailed,” he said. “So we can presume from that, that the allegations were unsubstantiated.”

Hernandez said her side has continued to organize baseball games as Caribe Little League rather than Caribe Sport, the name of their opponents in court, and that they have about 300 players originally from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Honduras and The Bronx because the families stayed with them.

The summer season kicked off May 30, she said.

“They don’t own the players,” she said.

The Yankees provide Dominguez's league with $1,500 in support per year, which is its standard amount of support for Little Leagues. Vasquez has never approached the team for assistance, according to a company spokeswoman.

Caribe Little League is currently permitted for the Quarry Ballfields from March through June and three fields in Crotona Park from March through August, while Caribe Sport is permitted for Mapes Ballfield from May to August, according to the Parks Department.

Vasquez said he has 12 teams, all of which came from the old league. He maintained families only stayed with Hernandez and her side due to a lack of choices.

"That is the only league there," he said. "They have no other options."

Legal troubles did not seem to be on the mind of Vasquez's players during their June 17 practice, as they were too busy enthusiastically playing baseball.

Wilton Rodriguez, a new parent in the league, said his 10-year-old son had joined this year and was unaware of the legal dispute surrounding it.

He had his son sign up because he was dissatisfied with his prior league, which he described as marred by favoritism among the adults and not very educational.

“Here I feel good because my son is learning," he said. "They practice a lot. They have more discipline.”