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GTHL bars team manager from handling finances after investigation

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The Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL) said Wednesday it has barred a Markham Majors AAA team manager from handling team finances for five years and has directed the organization to update its policies following an investigation of team bank accounts and financial records.

The investigation was commissioned after a parent alleged player fees and fundraising money raised for his son’s team were not properly accounted for.

The GTHL hired retired Ontario Provincial Police officer Keith Lawson to conduct an investigation of the Majors’ AAA Under-12 team in April after TSN asked the league questions about the team’s finances.

At the time, hockey parent Aaron Groskopf, whose son, Noah, played for the team, said the Majors organization had refused repeated requests to provide an itemized breakdown of how the team’s money had been spent.

Groskopf said the team had a $130,900 budget for the 2022-23 season and that parents began demanding transparency from the organization in November. As more questions were asked, Groskopf said team manager Jennifer Silva shut down an account on on Jan. 25, a website many teams use to fundraise from the family and friends of players. The Majors did not provide families with details about how much money was raised using the website or explain what has been done with the funds, Groskopf said.

Without mentioning Silva by name, the GTHL said Wednesday in a news release that the manager of the team in question would be banned from registering or undertaking financial management duties until the 2028-29 season. The Majors will be required to cover the “significant costs” associated with the GTHL’s hiring of a forensic accountant, the league said.

Groskopf said the league hired Jennifer Fiddian-Green, who leads Grant Thornton's national risk and forensic advisory practice, to review the findings of its investigation of the Majors. Fiddian-Green did not respond to a request for comment.

“The league told me that the bill for this was in the tens of thousands of dollars and the Majors would be required to pay all of it,” Groskopf told TSN.

Groskopf also alleged that Silva had used her personal bank account in connection with team fundraising. Personal accounts are not supposed to be used for team transactions, according to GTHL rules.

Groskopf said the GTHL held a meeting last week to review its investigation findings and provided him with a Nov. 1 report on its investigation. According to that report, the Majors’ policies regarding team bank accounts were not followed. 

“… three personal accounts were used, deposits of team revenue were made to two of these personal accounts and disbursements were made without documented approvals,” the report said. “The funds collected for players fees were not properly handled. With supporting documentation for 98% of expenditures, there was no evidence that funds were spent inappropriately.”

According to the Nov. 1 report, the GTHL said that while sponsorship funds from FlipGive were not directly deposited into the team bank account, the funds were eventually accounted for.

“There was no evidence of inappropriate spending or missing funds,” the GTHL said.

The league said Majors teams will be required to revise and update their financial policies, which must include approval frameworks for all expenditures, including those made via e-transfers. Any e-transfers exceeding $100 must receive approval from two authorized signing officers, the GTHL said. The Majors must also have in-person meetings with all team managers to communicate its policies.

The GTHL has told TSN that it is also investigating multiple allegations that some teams and the non-profit organizations that run them have been inappropriately bought and sold. The league has not said how many investigations are under way and did not respond to questions about the status of those investigations.

In September, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) wrote former NHL player Akim Aliu an email saying that it was reviewing allegations that teams and organizations in the GTHL have been improperly bought and sold.

Aliu said in an interview that he filed complaints to the CRA and the federal minister for sport after reading a TSN story in April that quoted a prospective buyer of a GTHL organization who alleged he had a deal in place to purchase it for $375,000 and had been coached on how to skirt the league’s rules prohibiting such sales.