Indiana - INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Some parents say they're concerned after learning that a member of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club, who pleaded guilty to a federal charge connected to drug trafficking, is being allowed to coach a local Little League team.
"BOOM. COPS EVERYWHERE."
"I just turned around, and suddenly it was like-boom. That was it. There were cops everywhere," said one man who witnessed the FBI raid on Indianapolis' chapter of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club in early July 2012.
Federal agents in full SWAT gear swarmed the club's near east-side headquarters, seizing motorcycles, drugs, guns and at least $14,000 in cash.
U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett called it the largest organized crime bust in Indianapolis history.
42 club members were indicted and taken into custody during the bust, accused of crimes ranging from mail fraud to racketeering and cocaine trafficking. One of those arrested during the sting is Russell Pryor, 43, known in the club as "Gabby," according to court documents.
The indictment, unsealed the day of the raid, shows that undercover agents recorded a phone call in March of 2012, where Pryor allegedly agreed to deliver "a quantity" of pain pills, like Vicodin, to another club member.
He posted bond shortly after his arrest and was released.
"I WAS SHOCKED"
"I first saw his name in the news last year, and I recognized it immediately as a coach we used to have," said one parent who asked for her name to be withheld. "I was quite shocked knowing that he used to be a part of the little league that I have been a part of. My kids have played there."
The parent, who agreed to be identified as a former board member at the Lowell Little League on Indianapolis' southeast side, said she later learned that Pryor had been hired to coach her son's team.
"I was uncomfortable with it," she said. "People in those types of positions should be role models for children. And, considering the nature of the people he was involved with? There could be repercussions. It could potentially lead to violent situations, because you don't know what the others are thinking. What if they came hunting him down? Then, you're exposing all these children to this."
Upon learning of the charges against Pryor, the parent said she pulled her son from Pryor's team.
But, she worries other parents may be unaware.
"It's not as if he's just at that one ballpark. There are away games. So, he's also endangering people who have no idea what's going on," she said.
A BOARD VOTE
I-Team 8 asked Lowell Little League Board President Craig Messenger whether parents were made aware of the charges against Pryor.
"I don't know," he replied. "It was in the media before, so, figured maybe they knew about it. But, we didn't send flyers out or anything."
But, it is clear that the Lowell Little League Board did know of Pryor's arrest and indictment.
The league's executive board voted 6-1 in early May to allow Pryor to coach this season, Messenger said.
"We had a meeting and he was there and explained some of the things that happened and what was going on. And, we voted then to let him coach," he told I-Team 8's Troy Kehoe.
Messenger called Pryor a "dedicated coach," who made the league better.
"Russell was involved in our league for years and has always been huge for fundraising. Helped out with anything he could. He's one of the coaches that people would ask if he was coaching and if they could be on his team. I never had any problem with him other than [the July arrest], and we just felt like he made a mistake and people need a second chance," he said.
Besides, Messenger said, Pryor had only been accused of the crime, not convicted.
"If he was [convicted], at that point, we'd have to maybe make a different decision," Messenger said.
A GUILTY PLEA
But, court documents obtained by I-Team 8 show that Pryor did agree to plead guilty to one felony count last November. That's a full six months before the board approved him as a coach.
He is now awaiting sentencing, which was set for April, but has been rescheduled for November of 2013.
It is unclear whether the board was aware of the plea deal before allowing Pryor to coach. I-Team 8's calls to Messenger for comment on the plea were not returned.
But, the parent who pulled her son from Pryor's team says she believes the board played favorites, hoping no one would notice.
"I know for a fact that Craig and Mr. Pryor are friends outside the ballpark," she said. "That's why I wanted the whole [Lowell Little League] board to vote. There were many others uncomfortable with this situation. But, Craig only allowed the executive board to vote. Had the whole board voted, it would have went a totally different way."
"When we first called the meeting, it was just the executive board that voted on it, because it was a quick meeting, and usually we try to give a week's notice or something for a meeting. Not every board member could make it," Messenger responded.
He also said he sought outside advice before calling the vote.
"I talked to my supervisors in Little League about it and talked about it before we had approved him to coach, and they felt it was OK," he said.
"IT'S UP TO THE LOCALS"
Little League administrators said they were aware of Pryor's case, but that the decision on allowing him to coach was out of their hands.
"Ultimately, the [local] president is solely responsible for appointing managers, coaches and umpires with approval by the board of directors," said Little League Central Region Director Nina Johnson. "So, we don't have any authority in who a league decides to allow to volunteer in their local organization."
There is one exception to that rule, Johnson said.
"Anyone who has been convicted of, or plead guilty to a crime involving or against a minor is prohibited from participating in any manner in the Little League program," she said. "Absent that, it's solely up to that league's board of directors to determine whether or not that individual is fit to volunteer in their program. We may go to them and say--hey, we're not sure this is a great idea. But, it's still is up to them to appoint their volunteers. If they decide to appoint someone to manage, coach or umpire, and they know there's a history, if something were to happen, it ultimately comes back on that board of directors."
Johnson said Little League also advises local boards to look at "the bigger picture."
"If someone goes to the media and the media gets ahold of this story, how will it look? So, whenever you're making those decisions, keep that in mind," she said.
Johnson said League administrators were made aware of Pryor's case, and have heard several concerns from parents.
"I don't know the individual, and I wouldn't be able to make a blanket statement as to whether or not I would want someone I didn't know coaching my child. But, I can understand the parents' concerns about that," she said.
All Little League volunteers are, at a minimum, run against a list of registered sex offenders, Johnson said. But, Little League also provides up to 125 free criminal background checks per local league, per year.
A background check was performed on Pryor before he was hired, and it came back clean, Messenger said. It is possible that his plea deal may not have returned on that search because he's not yet been sentenced, Johnson said.
But, even with a guilty plea, Messenger said he would still welcome Pryor as a coach.
"Knowing Russell Pryor as long as I have, and the situation, I would be comfortable with my kids playing on his team if I had kids in that age division," he said.
Pryor declined to comment on the case or his involvement in Little League, referring all questions to his attorney, Steve Dillon.
"I can't comment on whether he's a good candidate for Little League or not, or on the people objecting," Dillon said. "But, I can say Mr. Pryor was at the bottom of the food chain in this indictment. He served as the club's chaplain, and he was studying to become a funeral director. All I can speak on is the case, and we feel we got a good plea agreement."
Dillon would not disclose the terms of the plea, but said he hoped Pryor would avoid prison time.
A CALL TO ACTION
"That ballpark is the only positive, safe place that a lot of these children have. And, it's not so positive anymore. So, we're moving on to find another one. I hope other parents feel empowered to ask questions too," said the parent who asked to conceal her identity.
So, what should parents be looking for?
Johnson, of Little League, suggests that parents start by asking if criminal background checks are performed on their children's coaches. If so, request copies of them.
I-Team 8 checked with other youth sports leagues like Pop Warner, Soccer Indiana and Indy Hoops. All require criminal background checks for coaches and volunteers.
If you discover an issue, talk to your local league president and board members.
"And, if they're not happy with the decisions made by the people on the board, including the President, they have the ability to elect other people to do that," Johnson said.
If all else fails, ask league administrators to intervene.
"If parents don't feel comfortable about something, then they should speak up," Johnson said. "You never want to regret not saying something."