The New York Attorney General is suing a high school and post-graduate basketball recruiting business for “misleading consumers by misrepresenting their program and services.
AG Barbara Underwood announced the lawsuit against AAUCONNECT.COM, LLC (AAUCONNECT), and its principals Chris Bevin and Hazel Ward, Tuesday and seeks to prohibit the company from “engaging in fraudulent and deceptive conduct” and seeks restitution for consumers, civil penalties, and costs.
“Students hoping to play college or professional sports shouldn’t have to worry that a business is preying on those dreams in order to make a quick buck,” Underwood said. “My office will not tolerate those who scam students and their families.”
A statement issued by the AG office notes, AAUCONNECT advertises on their website that their program provides high-quality accommodations for participants, including a college-like living environment near grocery stores, shopping, and entertainment, and a private restaurant where meals are prepared by a “top Chef” and designed to meet the dietary requirements of athletes.
The lawsuit alleges, in fall 2016, consumers complained that AAUCONNECT housed athletes in a run-down, filthy building with no working stove or microwave, no cable TV or internet, and far from grocery stores, restaurants, and the team’s practice facilities; there were also allegedly used syringes scattered on the ground outside the building.
Athletes were told they would regularly train and play in college-quality facilities, but instead allegedly only practiced in local community and church gyms – which led to irregular and inconsistent practice times, as opposed to the structured program that AAUCONNECT advertised. Consumers also complained that Chris Bevin and Hazel Ward, who held the roles of CEO and Admissions Counselor for the company, were allegedly absentee owners that lived outside of the United States and were never present to supervise the program or address problems that arose.
AAUCONNECT, Bevin, and Ward also allegedly charge additional thousands of dollars outside of the price of tuition for the mandatory meal plan, and consumers complained that these meals were often bland, tasteless, and inadequate for practicing athletes; the portrayed “upscale” restaurant was merely a stripped down room where plates and utensils were not adequately cleaned.
AAUCONNECT, Bevin, and Ward also allegedly advertised that they provide academic services, claiming that education is their top priority. They claim to have a “full-time” tutor, SAT prep, English classes, and college placement services. Consumers complained that they did not receive any of these services. The company also allegedly advertised that they operate “New York International Academy High School” for 7th through 12th grade by using an unauthorized picture of an unaffiliated Binghamton area high school. After the school complained, they finally took the picture down – yet continued to advertise that they have a high school, when no such school exists and they have never obtained authority from the New State Department of Education to operate one.
Additionally, the AG office says the company also allegedly failed to clearly disclose to consumers that any payments are non-refundable or that they impose significant fees for any late payments. Additionally, they allegedly failed to pay refunds after consumers left the program due to Bevin and Ward not providing the advertised services and accommodations.
The Attorney General’s lawsuit seeks to prohibit Chris Bevin and Hazel Ward from owning and operating a high school and post-graduate high school basketball business in New York until they post a $250,000 bond. The lawsuit also seeks restitution, civil penalties, and costs.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Michael J. Danaher, Jr. with the assistance of Investigator Stephanie Gerwel and Consumer Fraud Representative Erin Dirado, under the supervision of Assistant Attorney General-In-Charge of the Binghamton Regional Office James Shoemaker and Acting Executive Deputy Attorney General for Regional Affairs Gary Brown.