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Fraud complaints surface

Authorities looking at sports academy

POSTED: September 8, 2010 4:00 a.m.
Frank Reddy Dawson Community News/

Students of North Georgia College Prep Academy train Friday at the campus, which is next to Gold Creek subdivision.

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Authorities are investigating reports of alleged fraud totaling more than $10,000 at a sports academy north of Dawsonville.

  

Two employees of North Georgia College Prep Academy filed reports last week with the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office after checks they received — one for nearly $4,300, the other for $625 — bounced.

  

A vendor hired to deliver meals to students at the school also notified authorities that more than $5,000 in checks she received had also come back.

  

Sheriff Billy Carlisle said still more reports were being filed last week regarding “bad checks and insufficient funds” at the school.

  

“We got four or five reports in just the other day,” said Carlisle, who planned to meet with investigators late Tuesday.

  

The academy, which is next to Gold Creek subdivision off Hwy. 136, opened over the summer.

  

Southern Catholic College, which ended classes due to a lack of funding, has been leasing its campus to the academy on a month-to-month basis.

  

According to its Web site, the academy is a nonprofit college preparatory school that “prepares student athletes to be successful college students.”

  

A man in the academy offices Friday referred all comment to the organization’s director, Darren Wesley.

  

But Wesley, the man noted, has not been seen at the school for weeks.

  

Repeated phone calls to Wesley have not been returned, and his cell phone was not in service last week.

  

Despite the director’s absence, five coaches and 43 students reportedly remain on campus.

  

Tuesday, they were en route back to the academy from a weekend football game in New Jersey.

  

Cathie Waddell, whose catering business delivered food daily to the students for several weeks, said the bounced checks “really hurt my family, $5,000 is a lot of money.”

  

“I have to pay that back to my company now,” she said, adding that she “hope[s] this doesn’t happen to anybody else.”

  

Waddell said she was hired as a caterer because the academy did not have a food service permit to prepare meals for students.

  

“They weren’t able to get their permit right away when they opened, so they had to get food catered to stay up to code,” she said.

  

Waddell said Wesley was supposed to pay her on Fridays.

  

After several delays, she said, Wesley did provide some checks, all of which bounced.

  

According to an Aug. 30 sheriff’s report, the checks “she discovered were from accounts that were either closed or closed soon after she tried to cash them.”

  

“Mrs. Waddell felt that the staff of NGCPA was being deceptive and called the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office to file a report of their activities,” the report continued.

  

Carlisle said that attempts to locate Wesley have been unsuccessful.

  

He said after somebody receives a bad check, a certified letter must be written to the writer of the check. The check writer has 10 days “to clear the check up.”

  

“If they don’t do that within 10 days, the victim goes to the magistrate judge to get an affidavit for a warrant hearing ... the judge can issue a bad check warrant if they feel there’s enough evidence,” Carlisle said.

  

“At that point in time, the person will be arrested and brought to jail.”

  

Many of the students, who range in age from 17 to 20, have traveled from far away to attend the academy in pursuit of college football scholarships.

  

George Benakis, 17, and Kyle Mullen, 19, both hail from Toronto. Benakis said last week he wants to attend Harvard University, while Mullen has plans to go to Penn State.

  

Wesley reportedly handled the recruiting of students like Benakis and Mullen.

  

North Georgia College Prep Academy employee John Winfield Hewitt was hired to fly the students to Georgia. Hewitt filed a police report last week.

  

According to the report, “Darren Wesley wrote Mr. Hewitt a check for $4,288.61. Mr. Hewitt then went to have the check cashed and the account ... was closed in 01/10.”

  

Hewitt, the report stated, has since “retained legal counsel regarding this matter.”

 

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