Claims of unpaid bills follow baseball teams’ founder
By Bob Okon email@example.com August 25, 2012 1:52AM
Updated: September 27, 2012 11:09AM
JOLIET — Some of the college students who played for Jamie Toole’s baseball club this summer not only had their season shortened when the team folded early, they’ve also had their credit history threatened.
Toole shut down his Will County CrackerJacks and Illinois Lincolns with a week to go in the season and with the Midwest Collegiate League hounding him for league fees that the commissioner says mount up to $20,000.
The money problem might have looked like a matter between Toole and the league.
But players and their parents, too, have had a money problem arising out of unpaid rent that they say was supposed to be covered by the teams. Several face the threat of their bills being turned over to a collection agency.
Not the first strike
This is the second time in Joliet that Toole has been part of a baseball organization that shut down with financial problems and unpaid bills.
Toole, however, bristled at any comparison between his college teams and what happened when he was general manager of the Joliet JackHammers, the minor league team that was sold off after the 2010 season with unpaid bills of at least $400,000.
“I didn’t own any portion of the JackHammers,” Toole said. “I wholly own the Illinois Lincolns and the Will County CrackerJacks. There’s not one vendor or contract that is not my personal responsibility.”
Toole said he will work with everyone to pay whatever bills the team has.
“If there is something that we owe, we are going to pay it,” he said. “This is not the JackHammers.”
As for the players’ rent, he said only some players were promised financial help with housing. Others were responsible for their own rent.
A “handful” of players got notices, Toole said. “We’re trying to work that out.”
Twenty-one got notices, said Jasmin Zelinko, general manager for Centennial Commons. The housing complex on the Joliet Junior College campus is where out-of-town players stayed while in Joliet. Centennial Commons also was housing players with the Chicago Jets, another summer collegiate baseball team that Toole had organized but was not part of the Midwest Collegiate League.
Zelinko said there was an uprising in June when players started getting billed for rent.
One of the players showed her a contract indicating the team would cover housing costs, Zelinko said. But that arrangement was not made with Centennial Commons. Before the season, she said, “Mr. Toole came in and said he wanted housing for his players, but the players were going to have the lease agreement and be responsible.”
When it came time to pay the bill, she said, Centennial Commons had no one to go to but the players, who had signed leases that promised payment.
About half of them have not yet paid, Zelinko said. They do face the possibility of having bills sent to a collections agency.
That includes Scott Clark’s son, Ben.
Ben Clark played baseball for the Lincolns in June for about a week when he got injured. He returned home to Minnesota. Later, Ben received notice that he owed $400 to Centennial Commons for rent.
Scott Clark said he wrote out a $400 check to the Lincolns when his son went to Joliet to play for the team. He understood that the money would pay for Ben’s housing. Ben has tried to call and email Toole several times since getting the notice, his father said, but Toole has not responded. Toole said he had never received a call from either Scott or Ben Clark.
“Do I have to go down to small claims court in Joliet to file a $400 suit against him (Toole)?” Clark said. “We already paid the $400. We didn’t do so to enrich Jamie Toole.”
Toole said he sent an email inviting Scott or Ben Clark to call him after being contacted by The Herald-News about the situation.
As for Clark’s $400, Toole said that money was for a “player’s roster fee” that paid for bats, balls, insurance and assorted team expenses.
While the teams did promise to pay housing expenses for some players, Toole said, “It differs from player to player.” As for what was promised Ben Clark, Toole said, “With that specific player I couldn’t tell you.”
Toole has one lawsuit pending against him and his baseball club in Will County Circuit Court.
Prestwick Country Club in Frankfort wants $9,100 that it says is owed from a golf outing and dinner that Toole hosted on July 25, 2011. The case is scheduled for trial on Sept. 9.
Toole said the dispute with Prestwick is close to being settled.
Toole reiterated that he will pay the teams’ obligations. He said he will pay most of the fees owed to the Midwest Collegiate League, except for a $6,500 expansion fee charged for adding a second team to the league this season. Toole said the money was not due before he withdrew from the league, so he should not have to pay it.
League Commissioner Don Popravak said the organization repeatedly tried to get money from Toole throughout the season. Finally, the league gave Toole notice that the CrackerJacks and Lincolns would not be allowed to participate in postseason playoffs. Toole notified the league that he was taking his teams out of play before the season ended.
Popravak said he knows about the housing dispute at Centennial Commons because he gets emails every week from parents asking him for help. The Midwest Collegiate League, meanwhile, has “a gaping hole in our budget” because of the league fees that went unpaid, Popravak said.
Toole could prove Popravak wrong by making good on his promise to pay league fees along with a few other bills that he owes. But Popravak, when asked if he expected to get league fees from Toole, did not hesitate.
“No,” he said, “not at all.”