Arrests spur Little League review
By CARRIE JOHNSON, Times Staff Writer
Over the past 20 years, Rutherford Miniard, 45, the sponsor and manager of the Riverdogs, a team for 9- and 10-year-old boys, has been arrested on charges of indecent exposure, possession of drugs, arson and insurance fraud.
He also is under investigation by the state's department of insurance fraud, according to the State Attorney's Office.
Larry Dvorscak, vice president of the Crystal River Little League, said he was unaware of the extent of Miniard's record until he received the letter earlier this week. The matter was immediately turned over to the Citrus County Sheriff's Office, which did the background check on Miniard.
The league's board is scheduled to meet today when the members will determine whether to allow Miniard to continue as the manager of a team for 9- and 10-year-old boys.
The well-known Crystal River businessman has been a manager for the past three years and previously served as a coach.
Today it's customary for organizations involving children to run background checks on any adult who wants to participate, both as volunteers and employees. But the standards vary. Some groups specify no convictions. Others say being arrested more than three times is enough to justify a rejection.
For the Crystal River Little League, applicants are asked whether they have been convicted of a felony. Miniard, despite his checkered past, was able to answer no because he has only been convicted of a misdemeanor. He pleaded no contest or entered pretrial intervention to the other charges. In at least one case, the state didn't file charges after the arrest.
Dvorscak said the Crystal River Little League does not routinely perform background checks on volunteers.
But that policy might change in the near future.
"It's something the board will have to look at," he said. "As society changes, it becomes more complex. We have to protect ourselves and protect the children."
Miniard, the owner of AAA Roofing in Crystal River, refused to be interviewed. When called for comment, he said, "You have me confused with someone else" and hung up.
In addition to managing, Miniard also sponsors his team and is known for donating money out of his own pocket for equipment and throwing an elaborate end-of-the-season party.
Most team parents approached by the Citrus Times refused to be interviewed. One who consented, Eva Allen, whose son Jared is a catcher on the team, defended Miniard.
While unaware of his criminal history, she said, "it's something I'm surprised to hear, but I don't necessarily believe that makes him a bad coach."
Miniard has coached other children of Allen's over the years, and she has never had a problem with him, she said.
"He's a great person, and he really goes out of his way for the kids," she said.
Allen said it would take a charge of sexual abuse against a child to make her think twice about allowing her children to remain on Miniard's team.
That's also the standard used by Little League International, based in Williamsport, Pa.
The umbrella organization, which encompasses youth baseball teams throughout the world, states flatly that no one convicted of a crime involving sex and children can participate in Little League, said spokesman Lance Van Auken.
However, the organization allows individual leagues to create their own screening methods and devise their own guidelines regarding criminal charges and volunteer participation, he said.
"To a point, they have to trust their own boards," Van Auken said.
Miniard's only conviction was also his first arrest, when he was charged with indecent exposure in Polk County in 1980. Details about the crime were not available.
He was arrested again in 1990 by the Citrus County Sheriff's Office on one count each of possession of marijuana, cocaine and narcotics equipment. According to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records, Miniard entered a pretrial intervention program, and the charges were dropped.
Pretrial intervention is an option typically offered in lesser offenses and involves some form of community service, said Assistant State Attorney Lisa Herndon. The state agrees to drop criminal charges if the program is successfully completed.
Miniard completed pretrial intervention again later that year after being one of four people arrested in Operation Flameout, which was a countywide sweep of people suspected of committing arson.
In 1997, Miniard agreed to pay $150,000, serve five years of probation and perform 100 hours of community service after he was charged with insurance fraud in 1995.
State investigators said Miniard did not report at least 15 employees of his roofing business -- an estimated $1.5-million payroll -- to Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. between 1992 and 1994, withholding the workers' compensation payments owed to the company.
Miniard was not judged guilty after accepting the plea arrangement, so he could keep his business licenses and have the chance to pay back the full amount of restitution.
His final arrest was in 1996 in Marion County when he was picked up and accused of indecent exposure. According to an arrest report, Miniard was seen masturbating in public by a police officer who was posing as a prostitute. The state never filed charges.
But just two weeks ago, Miniard became the focus of yet another criminal investigation. According to Assistant State Attorney Mark Simpson, his office received new information regarding Miniard on March 4 and turned it over to the state's department of insurance fraud.
Simpson said he could not reveal details because of the ongoing investigation.
Miniard's record would probably bar him from participating in the Boy Scouts of America, said district executive Erin Castelli.
They do a thorough background check on each potential volunteer, and Miniard's indecent exposure conviction would have sent up a red flag, she said. Also, the Scouts would probably pass on any applicant who had been arrested more than three times in the last decade, regardless of convictions.
"We're working with youth, and their safety is paramount," Castelli said.
Dvorscak said Miniard is an extremely enthusiastic manager and has never received a single letter of complaint about him from a parent.
But, Dvorscak added, if the board has been aware of Miniard's record, it is unlikely he would have been allowed to continue as a volunteer.
"The whole thing was a surprise to us," he said.
-- Crime reporter Carrie Johnson can be reached at 860-7309 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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