In a story that's become all too familiar in Minnesota youth hockey circles, the Little Falls Youth Hockey Association has fallen victim to embezzlement by one of its own employees, with approximately $90,000 stolen over a span of about three years.
LFYHA President Carmen Johnson said that her emotions ran the gamut from shock to anger to resigned acceptance when she found out.
"I was really, really upset and hurt," Johnson said over the phone on Wednesday afternoon. "I almost went through all the stages of grieving," she continued, adding that both she and the community as a whole are not prone to cynicism or suspicion regarding its residents.
"It's a very small organization, and it's a small community, so you just never thought that would happen," Johnson said. "Everybody trusts everybody around here."
The hockey hotbed that produced Minnesota high school hockey's all-time leading scorer in Ben Hanowski is hardly the first organization to experience the gut-punch of an inside job. Minnesota Hockey's District 2, the Roseville Youth Hockey Association, and the Coon Rapids boys' varsity program have all been victims of embezzlement or fraud. Those are just a small handful of examples of crimes committed over the last seven years.
While the emotional toll the embezzlement has taken on Little Falls has been substantial, the financial losses hurt just as much, as the rapidly changing economics of the sport include increases in equipment costs and ice fees.
The association, which has about 140 players from Mites to Bantams, does its best to allow every child the chance to play, most years awarding scholarships to 10 players who otherwise could not afford to take the ice. Some of the association's registration fees and charitable gambling profits also go toward improvements at the Little Falls Exchange Arena, another measure the association takes to avoid raising its participation prices.
The losses also put the association behind on future projects it had planned, such as adding a second ice sheet, and that local businesses are financially tapped out after suffering during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently, the LFYHA's USA Hockey insurance will cover about half of the $90,000 in losses, leaving around another $40,000 the association will likely never recover.
"That's where we're asking for people to look inside and see if they've got some extra change that can help out a small community," Johnson said. "We don't have deep pockets in Little Falls, so a little bit here and there from people, hopefully, we can chip away at the debt."
If you are able, the association has set up a Venmo account for donations. Physical donations such as cash or check can be made to the association's PO Box 91 Little Falls 56345.
Venmo - @LittleFalls-YouthHockey