Open Letter calls for FIFA, U.S. Soccer to act on corruption and visa fraud in youth soccer
Stephen Griffin, the former CEO of Legacy Global Sports, has penned an open letter calling for soccer’s governing bodies to take action on the issues of visa fraud and corruption in youth soccer.
Griffin’s letter comes in the wake of a massive visa fraud scandal centered around the now defunct Global Premier Soccer (GPS), of which he briefly presided over as CEO of its parent company.
The U.S. Department of Justice recently announced criminal charges against former GPS Chief Operating Officer Justin Capell, who is accused of having “conspired with other GPS executives and employees, and with GPS’s outside counsel, to defraud several federal agencies by submitting fraudulent visa petitions in order to secure work visas for hundreds of GPS employees.”
In his open letter published on Sunday, Griffin implores the governing bodies of FIFA, U.S. Soccer, US Youth Soccer and US Club Soccer to “step up and take action” in order to prevent future corruption in the sport.
Last November, Griffin released a book entitled ‘FRONT ROW SEAT – Greed and Corruption in a Youth Sports Company‘, which is a fictional story based on his real life experiences in the sports industry.
[Editor’s Note: Griffin is personally involved in the saga, and is currently being sued by multiple parties, including by former employees and their families. For information on the lawsuits, Click Here.]
See below for Griffin’s open letter addressed to FIFA, U.S. Soccer, US Youth Soccer and US Club Soccer:
“In October of 2019, we learned that federal agencies raided the Massachusetts headquarters of Global Premier Soccer (“GPS”), one of the largest youth soccer organizations in the country. At the time, I was the CEO of the parent company of GPS, Legacy Global Sports (“Legacy”). I had been in that role for less than a year. I hadn’t sought the position, but rather took on the role as a board member after the previous CEO had exited the company.
Since that fateful day of the raid, some of us have spent an inordinate amount of time supporting law enforcement’s investigation while also trying to get our own answers. Certain employees were defensive, avoided answering critical questions and engaged in tactics that appeared intended to undermine our investigation. It was as if they were resorting to a scorched earth strategy – trying to burn down the house before the evidence could be discovered.
Both GPS and Legacy entered bankruptcy last spring and are still in the process of being liquidated.
Some of us could have simply walked away. However, we wanted answers and to prevent this from happening again. Despite efforts by others to limit our access to information, we have nonetheless pieced together what took place. It is hard to fathom that almost eighteen months later, the facts continue to be revealed as more people come forward to provide insights and evidence. The scope, scale and consequences of the schemes continue to expand.
Two GPS executives have already agreed to plead guilty to federal charges. Three more co-conspirators have been identified and I believe more indictments are on the way. Despite overwhelming evidence and guilty pleas, there are still individuals spinning their alternative reality and trolling those who are working to rid youth sports of opportunists who lack integrity or any hint of care or concern for our children. Some of these individuals continue to work in the youth sports industry (including soccer).
So, let’s set the record straight.
Certain individuals associated with GPS, other youth soccer organizations and certain professional clubs engaged in schemes to obtain immigration visas under false pretenses. This went on for years. Individuals and / or entities involved benefited financially from these schemes. These activities were not limited to P-1 visas but also included, among others, student and tourist visas. I believe this was not a particularly well-kept secret within the youth soccer industry. People turned a blind eye when it benefited them, directly or indirectly.
Claims that individuals didn’t know they were breaking the law lack credibility since scripts were distributed to visa applicants instructing them how to mislead embassy officials. Other email communications and attempts to conceal or cover-up the alleged crimes further undermine their claims of relying solely on the advice of attorneys. If they thought they were operating within the law, then why instruct people to lie or destroy evidence?
In addition, competitors actually colluded to obtain visas. Yes, competitors. At times, they bought and sold visas from each other. They also agreed to limit coaches’ employment opportunities and their rights to fair wages in a free market economy. Coaches were underpaid, overworked, placed in unacceptable living arrangements and treated like indentured servants.
These activities not only hurt the coaches but provided an unfair competitive advantage in the marketplace. Those in the youth soccer industry that complied with the law found it difficult to compete. Some non-profit clubs even felt they had no choice but to affiliate with the larger organizations that leveraged coaches here on visas – this helped expand and accelerate the scheme.
Even when coaches’ visas expired, some remained in the country. Some were paid either in cash, from a UK-based company or through other employees’ paychecks. You can imagine the tax implications of such practices. Imagine a coach remaining in the country after his visa expired, continuing to coach young children and getting arrested for driving under the influence. When federal agents started interviewing coaches, GPS management quickly removed coaches names from company and team websites in order to avoid prosecution.
Some coaches’ credentials were even embellished by misrepresenting UEFA and other coaching certification levels. I have been told by former employees that coaches’ cards were even forged instead of issued by the appropriate governing bodies. Families entrusted their children with these clubs and coaches under the premise that U.S. Club Soccer or U.S. Youth Soccer were ensuring compliance with their health, safety and risk mitigation protocols.
Earlier this month, we learned that a former GPS coach, who has a questionable visa history, had been arrested in Canada on charges of sexual assault against children. While we pray that this is an isolated instance, I fear that this is just one consequence of individuals knowingly violating laws and risk mitigation policies.
We have also obtained, from former employees, evidence that indicates that certain members of GPS management directed another scheme in which fraudulent vaccination and immunization certificates were created for coaches from foreign countries and, perhaps, for children. These certificates were required in certain states for camp programs. I was told that staff members was advised by management that obtaining the actual vaccination and immunization certificates was too time consuming. Imagine putting children and their families’ health at risk simply to avoid a time-consuming task. Imagine being a board-certified physician signing blank certificates knowing their intended use. Rest assured, the appropriate boards of health and law enforcement agencies have been notified.
This story continues to unfold.
It is time for the governing bodies to step up and take action. They can remain silent and it will likely become another black-eye for the industry, or… they can take action and affect change. Positive change.
FIFA’s vision is to promote the game of football, protect its integrity and bring the game to all.
U.S. Soccer Federation’s mission is to make soccer, in all its forms, the preeminent sport in the United States and to continue the development of soccer at all recreational and competitive levels.
U.S. Youth Soccer’s mission is to provide world-class support, resources and leadership, helping every member fulfill their goals on and off the field of play.
U.S. Club Soccer’s mission is to foster the growth and development of soccer clubs throughout the United States to create the best possible development environment for players of all ages in every club.
Based on the respective governing bodies’ stated missions and values, I implore all of these organizations to immediately conduct investigations into these practices. Examine remaining member organizations with suspect practices. These investigations must be performed with absolute transparency. Identify the culprits and ban them from working in youth soccer. Implement appropriate policies, procedures and ongoing audit practices that dramatically mitigate the risk of this ever happening again.
Lastly, evaluate your own practices. As non-profit organizations, your own disclosures remain opaque. Until you provide complete clarity regarding related party transactions, self-dealing and conflicts of interest, it is virtually impossible for your members to trust you as custodians of the sport and, more importantly, our children.
We all want answers and want to prevent this from happening again.”