When ‘Everyone’s Grandma’ Is the Town’s Little League Thief
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Karen Dimitrie was the library clerk at a local elementary school, the longtime treasurer of her town’s Little League and active at her neighborhood church. She volunteered for charities and was known as the person who always brought coffee for others at community meetings.

“Karen was like everyone’s grandma in town,” said Frank Pizzo, the recreation director here in Clinton Township, a suburb 25 miles northeast of Detroit.

Karen’s husband, Frank, with whom she had raised three children in town, was president of the Little League and coach of the freshman high school baseball team, which made him the gatekeeper to a prized spot on the varsity squad.

Both in their mid-60s, they stood at the nexus of three powerful institutions in town: school, church and Little League.

All that came crashing down when the Clinton Valley Little League board of directors met one night in early 2014. Just after the meeting was called to order, Ms. Dimitrie was accused of stealing $50,000 from the league. Within months, the police concluded that the total amount missing from the league’s bank account was closer to $300,000.

Robert Czech, a board member who helped uncover the theft, said Ms. Dimitrie immediately admitted to “messing up” and kept repeating at the meeting that her husband knew nothing about the fraud.

Czech added: “And Frank said: ‘Shut up, Karen. Don’t say anything.’”

The Dimitries’ case is hardly rare in the increasingly prosperous world of American youth sports, from which millions of dollars have been stolen in what public officials and nonprofit watchdogs say is a mounting swarm of corruption cases.

But the Clinton Valley Little League situation is an especially illustrative example of the way a typical case of youth sports fraud can jolt and divide a community and leave a town bound by trust feeling betrayed.

The case also draws in many of the characteristic elements: theft by a trusted volunteer, rifts in a scandalized community, lasting consequences, lingering suspicion and, ultimately, a plucky, stirring recovery by the league.

“The whole township was broken up by it,” Mr. Pizzo said. “It was a nightmare.”