Six months in jail for leader of failed youth baseball league

Ryan Rhoads, head of a failed Tacoma youth baseball league, waits Friday in Pierce County Superior Court to hear his sentence on multiple counts of theft.
Ryan Rhoads, head of a failed Tacoma youth baseball league, waits Friday in Pierce County Superior Court to hear his sentence on multiple counts of theft. Staff photographer

Ryan Rhoads, who drove a Tacoma youth baseball league into a financial swamp, apologized in court Friday to those he’d harmed — but it wasn’t enough to keep him out of jail.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Jack Nevin sentenced Rhoads, 43, to six months in jail. The sentence came after Rhoads pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree theft and three counts of issuing bad checks.

“I want to say that I’m truly sorry,” Rhoads said before he was sentenced. “I feel deep pain and embarrassment knowing that people think I intentionally harmed them.”

In 2014, The News Tribune profiled Rhoads and the failed Pioneer Pony Baseball league he ran from 2011 to 2013. The league drowned in a sea of debt, bad checks and accusations of stolen money.

The precise loss might never be known, Nevin said in court Friday. The league and other investment ventures involving Rhoads were complicated.

Estimates of the losses from bad investments, unpaid bills and parent checks written for uniforms exceeded $100,000, according to investigative records.

Rhoads’ attorneys disputed that figure, saying the losses associated with the charges were far lower.

The criminal investigation of Rhoads also snared his partner, Eric Jacobs, who pleaded guilty last month to one count of third-degree theft and received a suspended sentence.

Jacobs played a smaller role in the case, deputy prosecutor Scott Peters said. Rhoads was the mastermind.

“This is a defendant who for multiple years ran for all intents and purposes a Ponzi scheme on a youth baseball league,” Peters said, arguing for a seven-month jail sentence.

“What he basically would do is start things up and get parents to sponsor it. He would use these funds for his own personal gain — his own piggy bank. That cycle continued and continued for two and a half years.”

Defense attorney Joseph Evans spoke for Rhoads, saying his client was remorseful and trapped himself in a financial loop he didn’t intend to create.

Seeking an alternative to jail, Evans said Rhoads had no prior criminal convictions, was the father of three children and the family breadwinner.

Two victims addressed the court. One was Laura Williams. She and her husband tangled themselves in a financial deal with Rhoads that ended with more than $50,000 in losses.

“(Rhoads) would apologize over and over,” Williams said. “He would sit there and cry, and then later on he would turn around and take more money.”

Ken Hawkins spoke for Pony Baseball Northwest, an affiliate of a national youth baseball organization.

“Ryan in two short years made our reputation in the Tacoma area such that it’s going to take years to repair,” Hawkins said. “We no longer have a league in Tacoma because of it.”

Rhoads spoke and asked for leniency. He apologized and said he wanted to repay the debts owed to others. He said he became too enmeshed in the baseball side and neglected financial matters.

“I hope that people will find that I am sincere in asking for forgiveness,” he said. “The league was an endeavor from my heart. This experience has been beyond painful.”

Judge Nevin had the final word.

“I think we lose sight of the fact that what we sometimes refer to as property crimes have an effect on human beings — they are also crimes against people,” he said.

“There was a point at which Mr. Rhoads knew that what he was doing was against the law. These were crimes of dishonesty — these were not crimes of poor financial stewardship.”

Nevin pronounced the sentence: six months in jail. Rhoads buried his face in his hands.

Evans, the defense attorney, asked whether his client could report to jail the following day. Nevin said no. A deputy cuffed Rhoads and led him out of the courtroom.