Rapid City police are searching for a man facing allegations that he collected close to $30,000 for a baseball clinic and youth traveling team that never materialized.
A warrant issued last week for Jason A. Anderson, 35, charges him with a single count of grand theft by deception, a Class 4 felony. Anderson allegedly obtained more than $1,000 from Ken Packwood of Rapid City between June 24 and July 2 and failed to “correct a false impression,” according to the warrant.
Packwood and his wife, Vicki, alleged in a claim filed July 14 that Anderson collected $6,300 from them to place their 9-year-old son on Team South Dakota. The team, which was advertised for players ages 10-18, was scheduled to compete in multiple age groups in several tournaments over the summer in Texas, Tennessee, Florida and Washington. It never formed, and Packwood and several other families claim they have been deceived.
Anderson said in an earlier report he would return the money to the Packwoods. Ken Packwood had said a meeting was arranged July 16 to have the money returned. Anderson did not show, and no contact has been made since, Vicki said.
Police Capt. Deb Cady said Monday that the department’s investigation is ongoing, and so far, there are five potential victims in the case.
“There are a lot of victims, and there is a lot of loss, so we’ll keep on it,” Cady said.
Anderson has a criminal history in the Florida panhandle. An arrest warrant from August 2008 in Holmes County lists charges of forgery and counterfeiting. Anderson received a citation in Bay County for passing worthless checks, and Jennifer Wells, court administrator of the 14th Judicial Circuit in Florida, said the state never filed official information because he successfully completed a pre-trial program.
There is also an open case in Bay County with a charge of domestic violence battery. Anderson failed to appear in court on three separate occasions in May and June 2008 and failed to complete anger management in March 2009, according to the online docket. A new judge was assigned to the case late last month, Wells confirmed.
Rapid City police detective Warren Poches said Monday that there is also an active warrant under Anderson’s name and date of birth for his arrest in Monroe County, Michigan.
Cady said it appears Anderson arrived in the Rapid City area in March. The same month, Jason Herz, owner of The Batter’s Box baseball clinic, said he had first contact with Anderson about a “Training with the Pros” baseball clinic.
The two-day event, advertised in fliers for players ages 5-18, said it would bring 20 major- and minor-league players and instructors to Rapid City. Herz said Anderson was asking for $18,500 toward T-shirts, fliers, player appearances and travel arrangements.
Herz filed a civil lawsuit July 13, accusing Anderson of collecting the $18,500 and failing to return it when the clinic, which was postponed several times, never occurred.
The Herz lawsuit lists a motel room at the Best Western Town & Country Inn on Mount Rushmore Road as Anderson’s address. Cady, however, said the department has checked several possible locations but has not found Anderson. Cady said the department was not aware of any civil proceedings until after they were filed, and she said no one had yet come forward with a criminal complaint against Anderson when Herz filed his lawsuit.
Also filing a small claims case earlier this month was Michelle Garnett, who said she gave Anderson $3,000 in multiple payments toward her now-10-year-old son’s placement on Team South Dakota. The cost was to include uniforms, travel arrangements and tournament fees.
Garnett said she remembers Anderson asking for sizes for uniforms and other clothing items for her son, and she said he would go through sprinting drills and workouts to enhance her son’s pitching mechanics.
“You get caught in the middle, and you just want to do the best for your kid,” she said.
Garnett said her frustration and sadness came to a head when she took her entire family to Mitchell for a tournament over the Fourth of July holiday. Expecting a bustling scene, all Garnett saw was a barren ball field.
She soon heard about the Packwoods’ plight. The family had been conversing with Anderson about a tournament in Cocoa, Fla., going on simultaneously with the purported tournament in Mitchell. Garnett filed her claim July 9, and said the pit in her stomach only grew when she heard about other families’ troubles.
“When I heard about all of that, I thought, ‘Oh, my God, what a fool I’ve been,’” she said.
The alleged deception isn’t limited to parents. Michael Baldwin, an 18-year-old pitcher on Sturgis’ American Legion team, also had contact with Anderson this spring. Baldwin said he initially met Anderson through Herz and later had a throwing tryout with Anderson for an older age division squad of Team South Dakota.
Baldwin received positive reviews and was OK’d for the team. Although he did see Anderson just about every day, Baldwin said, it was usually just a one-on-one workout, or a couple other players would be around. But there were never enough players there to assemble a team.
Baldwin said his family declined to give a specific amount, but he said his family paid in full what Anderson requested for team expenses. Baldwin later rejoined Sturgis’ Legion squad for the end of the Legion season.
Garnett hopes her son will return to Little League baseball next year, but she isn’t sure he will want to. Looking back, she said, she had concerns about the legitimacy of the team, but Anderson “did it just good enough to make things seem like they fell into place.”
In the end, she said, she has learned to trust her gut feeling if she were to sense something amiss again.
“His excuse was always that he had lots of people working on it. That’s how it all would come together,” Garnett said. “And you believe it. You fall for it. You just do.”
Contact Danny Lawhon at 394-8431 or email@example.com.