GARDEN GROVE, Calif. (KABC) -- Police in Garden Grove are searching for families who feel they've been defrauded by the president of the Garden Grove Bulldogs Pop Warner football team.
Investigators said as of Friday, about half-a-dozen parents had accused the president, Dathan Lui, of fraud.
"My biggest fear at this point is he has my son's original birth certificate," said mother Deanna Vargas. "I mean, identity theft comes to mind right away. That's what I'm afraid of."
After years of waiting to finally play Pop Warner football, following in his big brother's steps and saving $200 in gift money for initiation fees, Deanna Vargas' 11-year-old son Alexander was heartbroken.
"It's not fair to like crush other kids dreams of like playing football because they just, he just took their parents' money and just said that the season was canceled and kind of just crushed other kids dreams of playing football," Deanna Vargas said.
Instead of starting his first season, the boy's parents filed a police report against Lui. They're not alone.
On top of handing over vital records, some families paid nearly a $1,000 for registration, deposit and raffle tickets, but come July, the season didn't start as scheduled.
Jose Reyes had to break the news to his 6-year-old, who was excited for his first season.
"We're walking distance, so we would see this team practice," said Reyes. "We'd see this team play. My son was so excited. He told me he wanted to play there. He wanted to play football and for me to explain to him what happened, it really broke my heart."
Parents say Lui stopped communicating with them.
A spokesperson with the City of Garden Grove told Eyewitness News the team's governing body, the Orange Empire Conference, or OEC, suspended the team's field permit with the city.
The OEC has not responded to ABC7's email, but told parents in emails that its Board of Presidents voted this past May to revoke Garden Grove's membership for the 2022 season "based on various rule violations committed" by Lui.
In a statement, Lui said the team cut ties with the OEC because of constant difficulty and negative interactions. Lui said families would be returned their money and documents.
Below is the full statement Lui emailed Eyewitness News Friday:
This statement is in response to recent inquiries surrounding our 2022 Pop Warner football season sign-ups and registration. At this time our league recognizes the unfortunate situation regarding the cancellation of our Pop Warner 2022 football season and understands that this has had an adverse impact on a select few parties.We as a football league have every intention on returning to parents the vital records/documentation provided to us for registration purposes as well as honoring or refunding any monies that may have been paid for the registration of any youth players or athletes for the 2022 Pop Warner football season. We are working diligently towards a positive resolution with both the City of Garden Grove and the Garden Grove PD to help us regain access to our files containing all vital records as well as the IRS releasing collected funds. We request that all parties involved directly or indirectly exercise patients at this time as we all proceed to resolve this issue in the best way possible.
Furthermore, Garden Grove Bulldogs Football League would like to take this opportunity to announce that because of such constant difficulty and negative interactions with the "Pop Warner Orange Empire Conference" (OEC) our football league will no longer be associated with Pop Warner or OEC. We will now be re-associating our-selves with one of Orange County's top 5 Youth Football conferences to alleviate our league from the mismanaged unethical day-to-day operations and stronghold by OEC of which was constantly imposed on our league as well as other leagues associated with OEC Pop Warner.
Garden Grove Bulldogs Football League
The Public Information Officer with GGPD, Sgt. Nick Jensen, said Friday police had several documents in their possession and knew of a frozen team bank account with "an amount of money that is not significant."
"We want to make sure we gather all the information to see if there is even a crime at this point," he said. "We haven't determined that, but we don't want to investigate halfway. We want to make sure we have all the information and that's why we're reaching out to the community."
Police asked anyone with information that can help them with this investigation to call 714-741-5813.