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Post date: September 25 2018

A.G. Underwood Files Suit Against Basketball Recruiting Business For Misleading Consumers

News from the New York Attorney General's Office 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 25, 2018

Attorney General's Office Press Office / 212-416-8060
nyag.pressoffice@ag.ny.gov 

A.G. UNDERWOOD FILES SUIT AGAINST BASKETBALL RECRUITING BUSINESS FOR MISLEADING CONSUMERS

AAUCONNECT and Owners Allegedly Misrepresented College Basketball Recruiting Program to Prospective Athletes

BINGHAMTON – Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood today announced a lawsuit against AAUCONNECT.COM, LLC (“AAUCONNECT”), a high school and post-graduate basketball recruiting business and its principals, Chris Bevin and Hazel Ward, for allegedly misleading consumers by misrepresenting their program and its services. The Attorney General’s lawsuit seeks to prohibit AAUCONNECT, Bevin, and Ward from engaging in fraudulent and deceptive conduct, and seeks restitution for consumers, civil penalties, and costs.

“Students hoping to play college or professional sports shouldn’t have to worry that a business is preying on those dreams in order to make a quick buck,” said Attorney General Underwood. “My office will not tolerate those who scam students and their families.”

AAUCONNECT, which also does business as “New York International Academy,” operates in Endicott and offers programs for high school and post-high school athletes seeking to play college basketball or start a professional basketball career. AAUCONNECT offers athletes from around the world the opportunity to participate in a ten-month New York International Academy High School or six-month post-graduate program. The Attorney General’s lawsuit alleges that AAUCONNECT, Bevin, and Ward advertised unverified claims that their program is the #1 post-graduate boys and girls basketball program in the northeast, “the best in New York,” and has “the very best coaching, training & educational facilities and college placement service.” Not only has the company allegedly never operated a girls’ post-graduate basketball program, but it also failed to provide coaching staff with the training, background, and experience that consumers paid for and expected.

The company allegedly advertises on their website that their program provides high-quality accommodations for participants, including a college-like living environment near grocery stores, shopping, and entertainment, and a private restaurant where meals are prepared by a “top Chef” and designed to meet the dietary requirements of athletes. According to the lawsuit, in fall 2016, consumers complained that AAUCONNECT housed athletes in a run-down, filthy building with no working stove or microwave, no cable TV or internet, and far from grocery stores, restaurants, and the team’s practice facilities; there were also allegedly used syringes scattered on the ground outside the building. Athletes were told they would regularly train and play in college-quality facilities, but instead allegedly only practiced in local community and church gyms – which led to irregular and inconsistent practice times, as opposed to the structured program that AAUCONNECT advertised. Consumers also complained that Chris Bevin and Hazel Ward, who held the roles of CEO and Admissions Counselor for the company, were allegedly absentee owners that lived outside of the United States and were never present to supervise the program or address problems that arose. 

AAUCONNECT, Bevin, and Ward also allegedly charge additional thousands of dollars outside of the price of tuition for the mandatory meal plan, and consumers complained that these meals were often bland, tasteless, and inadequate for practicing athletes; the portrayed “upscale” restaurant was merely a stripped down room where plates and utensils were not adequately cleaned.

AAUCONNECT, Bevin, and Ward also allegedly advertised that they provide academic services, claiming that education is their top priority. They claim to have a “full-time” tutor, SAT prep, English classes, and college placement services. Consumers complained that they did not receive any of these services. The company also allegedly advertised that they operate “New York International Academy High School” for 7th through 12th grade by using an unauthorized picture of an unaffiliated Binghamton area high school. After the school complained, they finally took the picture down – yet continued to advertise that they have a high school, when no such school exists and they have never obtained authority from the New State Department of Education to operate one.

AAUCONNECT also allegedly failed to clearly disclose to consumers that any payments are non-refundable or that they impose significant fees for any late payments. Additionally, they allegedly failed to pay refunds after consumers left the program due to Bevin and Ward not providing the advertised services and accommodations.

The Attorney General’s lawsuit seeks to prohibit Chris Bevin and Hazel Ward from owning and operating a high school and post-graduate high school basketball business in New York until they post a $250,000 bond. The lawsuit also seeks restitution, civil penalties, and costs. 

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Michael J. Danaher, Jr. with the assistance of Investigator Stephanie Gerwel and Consumer Fraud Representative Erin Dirado, under the supervision of Assistant Attorney General-In-Charge of the Binghamton Regional Office James Shoemaker and Acting Executive Deputy Attorney General for Regional Affairs Gary Brown.