Firm charges schools to deliver Ravens but fails

Company promised to bring players to student assemblies, but team and players not involved

October 28, 2011|By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

Leon Gaters was among a handful of students at Colgate Elementary who knew the school's PTA had paid for a Ravens player to speak as a surprise guest at an October assembly. When he discovered days before the assembly that no player would show up, the fifth-grader said he was "bummed out."

The Baltimore County school is among dozens in the region that expected to host Ravens players this month. But school systems say that even though they paid an Annapolis company thousands of dollars, it did not provide the players as promised and hasn't refunded the money.

Schools and parent groups are now seeking ways to recoup money that they say Odyssey Group LLC charged them to schedule Ravens players to speak to students about bullying prevention and character education at assemblies. School systems involved include Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard and Carroll counties.

Anne Arundel school officials received an Oct. 7 letter from Trunnell Law LLC of Crofton, a law firm that at the time represented Odyssey and its owner, Joseph Gill. The letter said Odyssey had contacted an agent who had access to several Ravens players and that both parties agreed to work together to bring the players to the schools.

"Odyssey worked to plan and schedule the bookings, but the project grew too fast and Odyssey very quickly had more bookings than available players," the letter said. "At this point, Odyssey's relationship with the agent fell apart and the two parties were forced to part ways, leaving Odyssey with many bookings in the coming weeks and no professional athletes to speak at these bookings."

Efforts to reach Gill at his home in the 1400 block of Sharps Point Road in Annapolis and at his office were unsuccessful Friday.

Anne Arundel County schools spokesman Bob Mosier said Friday that 17 schools and PTAs paid $14,100 to Odyssey. He said agreements between Odyssey and the schools did not guarantee specific players, though the player most frequently mentioned in planned appearances was cornerback Lardarius Webb.

Patrick Gleason, Ravens media relations manager, said, "The Ravens do not have any affiliation with this company whatsoever," and added that any type of community appearance that involves players goes through the team's community relations department.

"I would have loved to do the bully thing with the schools — any schools," Webb said. "I love the kids, but somebody booked it without us knowing. … I'm sorry to all the schools that it bothered, but if it comes back up, I'll do it. But they didn't set it with me."

Mosier said that none of the $14,100 came from the school system budget, adding that it was from school activities funds and PTAs.

Kay Romero, president of the Maryland PTA, says the group is trying to help recoup the money but that the PTA insurance policy does not cover this situation. "Maryland PTA is reaching out to the PTAs involved to offer support," she said.

In 2006, Gill was charged in Maryland with violating the terms of his release from federal prison in Cumberland. He had been convicted of bank and wire fraud in U.S. District Court in Vermont in 1998.

A full accounting from the court record could not be immediately obtained because files are in storage. But available online court documents show that Gill was sentenced to 84 months in federal prison, followed by five years of supervised released.

A federal judge ordered Gill to pay full restitution of more than $1 million to his victims.

He filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2005.

Woli Schantz, cultural arts coordinator for the Thunder Hill Elementary School PTA in Howard, said that on Sept. 14, she issued Odyssey a check for $600, all raised by the PTA, for a Ravens player to attend a Nov. 15 assembly. She later received word from other area schools that the agreements weren't being honored and, upon contacting Odyssey, she discovered that Thunder Hill was in the same situation.

"We still have not received any money back," she said.

Howard County schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan said Friday that at least three county PTAs had signed with Odyssey, and at least two schools had signed contracts.

At least a dozen Baltimore County schools were contacted by Odyssey, according to Charles Herndon, a schools spokesman. The system did not lose money, Herndon said, because the purchasing department will not send checks to vendors before the services are delivered.

But he said that at least two PTAs in the county have lost money, including Essex Elementary, which paid the company about $300. "They haven't gotten refunds," Herndon said.

A Carroll County schools spokeswoman said two schools there were also affected.

Baltimore Sun reporters Peter Hermann, Liz Bowie, Steve Kilar and Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.

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