North Dakota parent lodges fraud complaint against youth hockey group
The claims in the complaint were vigorously denied by the Bismarck Hockey Boosters' executive director who said the group did not profit from the COVID-19 shutdown.
BISMARCK — A parent has filed a fraud complaint with the North Dakota Attorney General's Office claiming the Bismarck Hockey Boosters profited from canceled ice time during the coronavirus pandemic.
The claims in the complaint were vigorously denied by the youth hockey group’s executive director, Mikayla Jablonski Jahner, who said the group did not profit from the pandemic shutdown and that all teams enjoyed a full year of tournaments during the 2020-2021 season.
“We had our COVID policies that we followed. As far as any cancellations, we never canceled any part of it,” Jahner said, acknowledging that the 2020-2021 hockey season was interrupted after Gov. Doug Burgum issued an executive order suspending sporting events.
“There was a time when the governor shut everything down, so we did have a two-week break there,” Jahner said, adding that the state’s hockey association challenged the executive order and was allowed to resume activities as long as protocols were followed.
“The state hockey association fought the governor on that and they did allow us to go back to the ice then. We still had a full season as far as league games, we had a state tournament, with a two-week break,” she said.
The parent who filed the complaint, Brent McCarthy of Bismarck, told The Forum he waited more than a year to do so because he did not want his kids playing hockey to face any repercussions.
In his complaint, McCarthy wrote that “during the 2020/2021 hockey season which began in October 2020, the Bismarck Hockey Boosters (BHB) decided to suspend the season due to Covid-19 for over a month of the approximately 4-month season."
McCarthy further claimed in the complaint that the organization didn’t have to pay for ice time, which was $80 an hour for three to six times a week for 25 to 30 teams, during the shutdown.
Jahner disputed this, saying the organization paid for the ice time for the entire season.
"Even if the rink shuts down for maintenance issues, we still pay. We had to pay all our bills during that two-week shutdown and that entire season, despite us losing revenue from different areas such as concessions, registrations, etc.," Jahner said.
According to the Bismarck Hockey Boosters' response to the complaint filed with the North Dakota Attorney General's Office, the group spent $158,450 for ice rental, which is the same amount they paid in previous years.
Overall, the group paid $626,412 in expenses in 2019-2020 and $807,551 in 2020-2021, according to the group's response.
In his complaint, McCarthy claimed that Bismarck Hockey Boosters saved tens of thousands of dollars as a result of the pandemic shutdown.
“Hundreds of parents spent as much as $1,200 for their boys and girls to enjoy BHB’s services," McCarthy wrote in the complaint, adding: "They (pocketed) tens of thousands of dollars of the parent’s money and would not give the parents pro-rated refunds like you would expect. BHB instead decided to profit from Covid-19 by defrauding hundreds of parents and their children out of tens of thousands of dollars and enjoyed the windfall profits resulting from the pandemic."
In the complaint, McCarthy wrote that he was looking for a refund of $425 after he paid $1,700 for the hockey season for his children.
The attorney general's office tried to mediate the issue between McCarthy and the Bismarck Hockey Boosters, saying in a Dec. 6 letter that a mutual resolution had not been reached and that private attorneys could be consulted.
The Bismarck Hockey Boosters began in 1972, and more than 700 players from Bismarck take part in the group’s program each year. A typical season begins in October and ends in March.