Coach who embezzled funds gets probation

Youth baseball team vouches for Wolf

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published May 16, 2016

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SHELBY TOWNSHIP — On May 11, Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Toia sentenced Joseph Wolf, 52, of Shelby Township, to two years of reporting, supervised probation and lifted Wolf’s bond provision that barred him from coaching.

Wolf is the former director and founding member of the Detroit Metro Stars, a nonprofit youth baseball league. During a routine audit, the Michigan Gaming Control Board discovered a misuse in the handling of funds, which led to a criminal investigation.

On March 28, Wolf pleaded guilty to a felony charge of embezzling from the organization and paid $21,440.42 in restitution. He also pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of improper distribution of proceeds from charitable gaming events. 

Toia agreed to drop four felony counts of embezzling in exchange for the full payment of restitution.

The felony count is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $15,000 or three times the amount embezzled, whichever is greater. Each misdemeanor count is punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

Investigators said Wolf used the money to buy a vehicle, travel to Florida, pay his mother’s monthly cellphone bills, make a house payment, and pay personal vehicle repair bills for himself and other family members, according to the Michigan Gaming Control Board.

The money that Wolf embezzled was raised for the Detroit Metro Stars during charitable gaming events at The River, a charitable poker lounge in Shelby Township that shut down in 2014 reportedly due to the Michigan Gaming Control Board’s new, more restrictive rules.

The team held 32 days of charity poker in 2012 and 2013 at The River, according to the Michigan Gaming Control Board. Funds from such “millionaire parties” are supposed to benefit the selected charity.

At Wolf’s May 11 sentencing, nearly two dozen coaches, players, parents and community members showed up to support Wolf, and Toia said he received more than 20 letters in support of Wolf, including one from the Detroit Metro Stars’ board of directors.

Wolf’s defense attorney, Vincenzo Manzella, said his client put his own money into the organization’s coffers, waived certain coaching fees and volunteered countless hours of time to the organization.

“I think what happened here is it embodied him, and, when there was a time that he had some financial difficulties, he did misuse the funds of the Detroit Metro Stars,” Manzella said. “There is nothing that would lead you to believe anything like this would happen in the future.”

Wolf read a letter before Toia in which he apologized if his actions caused any embarrassment to his family, friends or the Detroit Metro Stars.

“I’ve never turned away a player whose family had financial hardships,” he said. “I personally provided funds to offset financial shortfalls, and the funds I provided were well in excess of the amount that I needed back when my family and I were in need.”

He said his error was not a deliberate attack to defraud the organization he loves.

“I am just a coach. I will never be mistaken for an accountant or an attorney,” Wolf said. “The error I made was simply due to a lack of knowledge and a lack of time to do these transactions correctly.”

Jim Agemy, treasurer of the Detroit Metro Stars, also made a statement on Wolf’s behalf before Toia.

“Truly, I never met anybody in my life that has dedicated more time to the kids, and not just his team, but every team and every kid in our organization,” Agemy said. “Every child that has ever played since I’ve been involved has got 100 percent of everything they were promised.”

Paul Corona, a coach with the Detroit Metro Stars, said he thought Toia’s two-year probation sentence was fair.

“The experience of not being around coach Wolf I know is difficult for my son and the kids, because they look forward to that once-a-week time they get with him,” Corona said. “He takes a genuine interest in every single one of the kids.”

Richmond Riggs, an assistant prosecutor with the Office of the Attorney General, said Wolf’s actions were criminal because he used funds raised during charitable fundraising for personal gain.

“The bottom line was that this was not his piggy bank to raid,” Riggs said. “I understand if he was going through a tough time, and we’re gratified that he paid the organization back, but it does not change the nature of what he did was wrong.”

Riggs agreed with the recommendation of two years of probation.

Toia mandated that Wolf not be allowed to serve as an official in the organization nor touch any money, checks or donations while on probation. He also required that Wolf serve 60 hours of community service, instead of the recommended 30 hours.

“If the court finds out (you were involved in touching funds) related to this or any other charitable organization, you’re going to come back and see me and this court will not be as considerate,” Toia told Wolf. “You need to go out and show these kids what a good example you can be.”

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