MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — More than 100 New York teenagers — and dozens in Chicago, Houston and Nashville, Tennessee — were duped by a Long Island-based "scam" charity into working at concession stands at major sports and entertainment venues in those cities on the promise they would be paid $9 an hour, but most received little or no compensation, prosecutors said.
Whelton Herron, president of "The Herron Foundation," and another man pleaded not guilty to grand larceny, conspiracy and scheme to defraud charges at their arraignments Thursday in a Long Island courtroom.
Acting Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said at a press conference that the nationally known concessionaire, Aramark Sports and Entertainment Services Inc., believed the students were working as volunteers under a program it operates that allows charities to receive a percentage of income from its concession stands at places like Citi Field and Jones Beach Theater in New York and Soldier Field in Chicago.
The Herron Foundation allegedly represented to Aramark that the teenagers were part of its charitable organization created to aid students who reside in impoverished communities. The prosecutor said the teenagers were told they would be paid $9 an hour for their work selling hot dogs and other refreshments at the ballparks and other venues —but were instructed to hide that arrangement from Aramark.
She said the teenagers, all between 16 and 19, were told if they were asked by any Aramark representatives, they should state that they were "merely volunteers for the Herron Foundation" and were not being paid for their services.
Herron and another man, Amadii Owens, later shared in at least $100,000 that Aramark gave to "The Herron Foundation" for the services rendered by the teenagers, Singas said. She said the teens worked at the ballparks and concert venues in the summers of 2013 and 2014. She said when some of the teenagers complained about not being paid, they were given token payments of $35, and told additional money would be forthcoming; it never was.
The teenagers were recruited from economically distressed communities on Long Island and elsewhere, the prosecutor said.
"They victimized some of the very children they had committed to helping and they stole from a corporate program designed to leverage volunteerism to support worthy charities," Singas said. She said her office's investigation is ongoing, and encouraged potential victims in New York and other cities to contact her office.
Aramark spokesman David Freireich said the company has been cooperating with the ongoing investigation, but declined further comment on how the company's charitable program works.
Herron, 43, of Brightwaters, New York, was expected to be released on $50,000 bond, attorney Joseph Megale said. He called Herron a "good, decent, honest man" and predicted his client would be exonerated.
Bond for Owens, 32, of Wyandanch, New York, was set at $5,000. His attorney, Greg Madey, said his client was duped by Herron. "I don't think Mr. Owens knew anything about this," he said of the allegations.
If convicted, the men could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.