WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — It’s a program meant to keep kids off Wilmington’s streets, but problems for the Student Athletic Basketball Academy keep piling up.
We first told you about the program last month, when employees claimed they weren’t being paid. The director had excuses, but it turns out, he may have lied.
When these former SABA employees told us they worked for more than a month without receiving a paycheck…, we went to Clifton Thomas, the camp’s director, to find out why.
In early August, he told us, “About two to three weeks before the program started I told each person, ‘I don’t know when you’ll get paid, but you will get paid.’ I said we deal off grants and from DSS, and I said you know the money is guaranteed, but I don’t know when you’re going to get paid, but you will get paid.”
Tyneisha Robinson denied Thomas told her this and filed a complaint with the Department of Labor. Thomas admitted the Department of Labor was investigating him, but claimed it was over.
“She said, ‘Sir, are you giving me a guarantee when the money come in they’re gonna be paid?’ I said, ‘Yes, ma’am.’ She said, ‘Well, there’s nothing we can do,'” Thomas told us in August.
But that’s not true.
A Department of Labor spokesperson told us the investigation is ongoing. In fact, even if the employees agreed not to be paid until the funds arrive, that does not matter. Under the state Wage and Hour Act, an employer must pay its employees at least once a month.
Thomas claimed he was waiting on grants.
“We have a $5,000 grant with Walmart and a pending $96,000 grant from Z. Smith Reynolds. As far as when we can draw down from them, that’s the question,” Thomas said.
According to Z. Smith Reynolds, that’s not true either. SABA isn’t even the type of organization the foundation supports.
“We have not received an application from the Student Athletic Basketball Academy, and we have not made a grant previously to them,” said Joy Vermillion Hines, with the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.”
Given the less than honest answers we received, we looked into Thomas’s criminal background.. He’s been charged for driving without a license numerous times and for obtaining property by false pretense.
We contacted the Department of Social Services to find out who regulates programs like SABA. DSS told us there is not an enforcement agency for summer programs.
Liz Mandel says this lack of oversight for summer camps is an issue she is very familiar with. She’s the director of the not-for-profit group Child Advocacy and Parenting Center, which works to prevent abuse and neglect.
“When I talk to the state, they say, ‘We just don’t have the resources. We don’t have resources to go through licensing, which is a long process, and then we don’t have the resources to monitor. We’re doing the best we can with what we have available to us,'” Mandel said.
Without oversight or enforcement, Thomas can operate SABA however he wants. But Mandel says not paying employees is something parents should be wary about.
“When you don’t (pay workers) you create several things,” Mandel said. “You create a staff that is not attentive to the children. They are worried about their own finances. They’re getting calls on paying their mortgage or their own finances or they’re looking for a job that will pay them, so it really hurts the safety of the child.”
The Department of Labor cannot force Thomas to pay his employees.
The District Attorney’s Office looked into the situation, but says it’s a civil matter not a criminal one.
We spoke with Thomas about what we found out. He says his grant writer is the one who told him about the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation grant. He is checking with the grant writer to find out more.
As for paying back the employees, Thomas says he is holding fundraisers to try and raise money to pay them back a little at a time.
In the meantime, Robinson says she and her former coworkers are going to small claims court to try and get their money.