I-Team: Parents want refunds after baseball team folds
You can smell the leather and hear the crack of the bat.
"AAU is competitive baseball, that's where the kids want to play more baseball than Little League," said parent David Iannuccilli.
And that was the expectation for the East Coast Rhinos. They were a newer team, having joined the Amateur Athletic Union last year, before expanding that one team into six.
If you made the cut and were between 9 and 15 years old, you were a Rhino.
"He was almost crying when he received his letter that he could join. He was thrilled," parent Dee Costa-Quezada said.
Her 10-year-old son signed up. So did Iannuccilli's 11-year-old.
"We'd be given five months of indoor training, numerous amounts of equipment, 25 to 40 games and various tournaments," Iannuccilli said.
The Rhino's contract shows the cost was anywhere from $600 up to $1500, depending on the age group. Everything was going well, that is, until the first of the year, January 2013.
Some practices were cancelled and Rhino gear -- sweat shirts and hats ordered for the holidays -- had never come in. There was talk of unpaid bills. Suspicion grew. Parents wanted answers from the team's president, Chris Gaboury.
"We started seeing emails that were kind of hinting to us that there wasn't going to be a team," said Costa-Quezada.
And then on Jan. 30 one email came from Gaboury's wife, Sandy.
"With great sadness and total devastation we have to announce that we are closing the Rhinos Baseball Club," it read.
No real reason was given, but the Gaboury's go on to say " refunds are being figured out now and our attorney will be handling that."
"I was very upset at the money we've put in. We put in about $900," said Joe DiLorenzo.
"I paid three installments of $167, which came out to $501 total," added parent Brian Rittall.
Rittall said he hasn't received any money back.
"I haven't received anything but promises in emails that have no value whatsoever," said Rittall.
The I-Team learned more about the Rhinos delicate finances. A manager at Sherwood Ultra Sports in Seekonk said Rhinos President Chris Gaboury bounced a check for $1,680 in November, but made good on it two months later.
At Elmwood Sports, in Cranston, the tab was a little higher.
"Hats, workout gear, you name it. Long story short, he walked out of here owing us $4,400 from a $9,000 bill, gave us a good faith payment of another $500," said owner Steven Marocco, who's run the shop for 27 years.
Seventy-seven teams come to him for all their baseball needs, according to Marocco.
"Never, ever, never been burned by an AAU team or even an organization, not once," said Marocco.
A representative at Rhode Island's office of the Amateur Athletic Union told the I-Team that they don't oversee individual ball clubs. Each one is its own independent franchise.
The AAU does provide insurance and background checks for coaches.
Chris Gaboury, the organization's now former president, didn't return our initial calls. Gaboury and his wife, Sandy, wouldn't speak to the I-Team when we approached them with a camera.
But later, Sandy Gaboury called the I-Team to say they're dealing with a sick family member and that their attorney is handling refunds.
Sandy Gaboury said some parents left the Rhinos, breaking their contracts to join a new team, and said those families may not get any money back.
And what about that big unpaid bill at Elmwood Sports? The Gabourys said they were overcharged.
"I think the money is gone. For me, my goal isn't to get the money back, it's more to expose what they've done because this is people's money as well as their kids', you know, dreams," said Costa-Quezada.
Rhode Island State Police confirm at least a dozen parents have made complaints and that the Financial Crimes Unit has an active investigation into the case.
The I-Team reached the Gabourys' attorney on the phone, who said he's now in the early stages of gathering all the financial information.