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Audit of Lone Peak baseball led to coach Mike LaHargoue's resignation

Parents fear more money was raised than is accounted for

Published: Saturday, March 24 2012 8:17 p.m. MDT

Lone Peak players jump in a pile as they celebrate winning the 5A State Baseball Championship. Lone Peak beat Cottonwood High 5 to 4 in the 5A baseball Championship game. Friday, May 21, 2010.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

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HIGHLAND — Mike LaHargoue no longer coaches for Lone Peak High School, but an investigation into how he managed the finances of the school's baseball program continues nine months after he resigned.

An audit was initiated by the Alpine School District after a group of 10 parents asked for an accounting of money they'd either paid through fees or raised through fundraisers since LaHargoue took over the baseball program in 2008.

LaHargoue is the second successful high school coach to be disciplined over financial discrepancies in recent months. Earlier this month, Timpview High football coach Louis Wong was suspended after an audit raised questions about how the coach managed the Provo high school's money.

Six parents who spoke to the Deseret News on condition of anonymity said they helped raise $224,000 at Lone Peak High through fundraisers, including a dinner and silent auction.

"We raised over $200,000 in a three-year period and we have nothing to show for it," one father of a Lone Peak baseball player said.

"Part of the reason we never said anything sooner is because our sons were playing and we didn't feel we could," said another player's mother.

In requesting anonymity, the parents said they feared retribution against their families because LaHargoue was such a popular coach.

Alpine School District spokeswoman Rhonda Bromley confirmed Friday that parents believe there was more money raised than the accounts suggested. The district, she said, can't prove their allegations one way or another because many of the funds were put into an account that the school did not control — or even know about.

"This is an ongoing investigation," she said. "Our district's attorney, as well as the state, are still investigating this. … Things aren't a done deal, as far as Alpine district is concerned."

The audit revealed LaHargoue had violated district policy — and possibly state law — in managing the program's funds, as well as a non-school summer baseball program that involved many of the same players. The auditor said the former coach displayed "poor judgment in financial matters."

Bromley called LaHargoue's actions "the epitome of sloppy bookkeeping."

LaHargoue resigned as the Lone Peak baseball coach in June, saying he wanted to take a year off and see if he still had a passion for coaching after 22 very successful seasons. The veteran coach had success at Mountain View High School before taking over the Lone Peak program in 2008. He led the team to a state title in 2010.

LaHargoue continues to teach health and P.E. at Lone Peak High, but Bromley said he no longer coaches because of the problems discovered by the audit.

"Yes, this is why he's not coaching," she said. "When all of this came to light, he resigned. And it's still being investigated."

The high school's website, however, still refers to him as "Coach LaHargoue."

Messages left with LaHargoue for comment were not returned.

The results of the Alpine School District audit have been turned over to the Utah State Office of Education. The state is investigating whether any violation should affect LaHargoue's teaching credentials.

Some of the parents involved in bringing the issue to the district confirmed they met with an investigator for the state on Friday.

A letter accompanying the audit indicates that "appropriate personnel action was taken" against LaHargoue. Bromley declined to say what other specific action the district has taken against him, citing privacy rules. But she did dispute his earlier claim that he was just taking a year off from coaching.

"He will no longer coach — not in the Alpine School District," Bromley said. "There was personnel action taken, appropriate action, but because it is personnel action, I can't tell you specifically what that was."

One of the biggest issues revealed by the audit was that LaHargoue set up "an unauthorized" bank account to handle summer baseball expenses and revenue — something he told auditors a previous coach had done as well. At the time, the Alpine district policy allowed accounts by booster clubs to be managed outside of the school's oversight, but a coach was not allowed to be a signer on such accounts.

In LaHargoue's case, he was a primary signer on the account, which was set up using a nonprofit tax ID number at the Bank of American Fork in May of 2008, the audit states. Assistant coach Gary Daniels and LaHargoue's wife were the only other signers. The team's booster club president, a parent, was not a signer, nor was she involved in managing the account, according to the audit.

A number of parents who met with the Deseret News last week said they asked to see those books, but were not allowed.

Bromley said the district has since changed its policy about booster club accounts. All accounts are now managed by the school.

"We believe in transparency and that parents should know where money is being spent, regardless of the reason it is being raised," she said.

Bromley said she confirmed that the tax ID number used on the summer baseball account did not belong to Lone Peak High, but she does not know which organization it does belong to.

The audit found that money raised for the school baseball program was incorrectly deposited into the the summer baseball account and revenue and expenses for both programs were mixed together. The audit also indicated: that few receipts were kept, that the district and state requirement to acquire bids before large purchases was not followed, and that no 1099 tax forms were issued to vendors who were paid from that summer baseball account.

"It was definitely sloppy bookkeeping on the outside account," Bromley said.

LaHargoue was also asked to repay the school for travel expenses for his wife that amounted to $1,279.60, according to the audit. Bromley confirmed the district did receive those funds from LaHargoue in August.

Auditor Robert Boyer pointed out that "minimal documentation" was provided for him to investigate.

"The checkbook register and a few invoices and receipts were available for review," Boyer wrote. "Deposits and disbursements are handled by Mike and Susan (LaHargoue) and are manually recorded in the checkbook. Monthly bank reconciliations are not performed. Previous audits have not been performed."

The auditor found a number of discrepancies, including checks written for different amounts than were recorded in the checkbook, outstanding checks, and deposits recorded for one amount in the checkbook but another in the bank records.

Bromley said the school is cooperating with state investigators and has made other changes in hopes of avoiding this kind of situation in the future. The summer baseball account is closed and the remaining money, a little more than $13,000, was returned to the school account.

She insists LaHargoue was not given special treatment because he was a successful and popular coach.

"He's not being treated any differently," she said. "This all came up right after graduation. There was immediate action taken as far as the audit, and we moved as quickly as possible. He was cooperative and he has paid the money back for the unauthorized reimbursements. We have also started more in-depth training for coaches that began last fall."

She said the gray area of summer programs is something they're working to make more clear for high school coaches, many of whom are also involved in summer sports programs.

"We want to be accountable for all of the money, that's our biggest thing," Bromley said.

E-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com, Twitter: adonsports

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