A Maryland man collected more than $120,000 by fraudulently renting out soccer fields that belong to D.C. Public Schools, District officials allege in a court file unsealed Friday.
D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) intervened in the whistleblower lawsuit, which was originally brought by the commissioner of a recreational adult soccer league that paid to use the fields. Although the suit was filed in 2016, it had been under seal as the District government investigated and decided whether to join the case.
Racine said in a statement that his office’s action would hold Larry T. Washington “accountable for fraudulently pocketing funds that rightly belong to” the city’s public school system and that he was “warning others that cheating the District of Columbia will not be tolerated.”
Washington, a resident of Laurel, Md., denied the lawsuit’s allegations in a phone interview Friday. He said he had merely served as a go-between, passing on the fees he was paid to a third party who reserved the public-school fields. Washington said he collected only about $1,000 per season for his services.
“The proper paperwork was filled out, and the D.C. Public Schools certainly got their money,” he said.
The lawsuit comes in a city where amateur soccer leagues are serious business. In addition to their on-field competition, youths and adults alike vie off the field for scarce playing space.
In gentrifying neighborhoods such as Columbia Heights, immigrants playing pickup games have chafed at the encroachment of organized sports leagues willing to pay top dollar to rent fields by the hour.
Beginning in 2009, officials said, Washington and two companies he controlled asserted to the Washington International Soccer League, a recreational sports group, that he was a broker of playing space who had agreements to rent out the school system’s fields.
The league paid Washington about $100 per hour to rent fields, including those at Dunbar High School, McKinley Technology High School, Coolidge High School and Eastern High School, according to Racine’s office.
However, Washington had no agreements with the school system, the lawsuit states — and league players sometimes showed up to find a field locked at a time they thought they had reserved it.
In 2013, a custodian at Eastern High informed the principal that the soccer league was using the school’s field, but school officials could find no record of an application or reservation by the league for the space — and another group had reserved the field at the same time through the proper channels.
The league’s commissioner, Delbert R. Terrill Jr., then confronted Washington and asked for a refund and to see valid use permits but was refused, officials said. Terrill referred questions to his attorney, who did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
Washington said in an interview that Terrill and the league were given access to the fields they paid to use. All told, the league paid Washington and his companies approximately $120,000 from 2009 through 2013, according to the lawsuit.
Terrill and the Washington International Soccer League brought a complaint against Washington and two of his companies — Washington Sports Leagues LLC and Sportsleagues LLC — in 2016, but until this week the case was sealed. The complaint was filed “qui tam,” meaning it was filed by a private citizen on behalf of the District government, which could then review the allegations that a law was violated and decide whether to join in an enforcement action.
Racine’s office joined the suit and filed a complaint Wednesday. The case was unsealed Friday.