In Your Corner: Cheer Academy Closing Leaves Trail of Victims

By Ryan Elijah

July 8, 2010 Updated Mar 26, 2011 at 11:00 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, IN (Indiana's NewsCenter) - Youth cheerleading competitions have become big business. For 6 years Total Cheer Academy operated in Fort Wayne, but the end of 2009 brought signs that TCA was in major trouble.

Laura Hughes a former TCA parent said "they sent out a mass email saying they owe 51-thousand dollars from parents accounts that were overdue."

Laura Hughes enrolled her daughter in May, but in November, after a canceled competition and still no uniform she found out on her own that the uniform order wasn't even processed until November. On March 2nd, TCA closed its doors, leaving many parents and coaches out money. Two Coaches told INC they're owed more than 10-thousand dollars, but declined to be identified.

"It's frustrating, and I'm not the only parent or coach that's had money taken by them", said Laura.

Laura did get some money refunded but opted for small claims court and won a judgment for 749 dollars. She's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of TCA creditors. We found two Fort Wayne companies that supplied uniforms and apparel decorations that are out 16-thousand dollars combined, neither wanted to go on camera but said they've changed collections practices because of TCA. The apparel decorator said payment problems with TCA went back to 2008.

American Heritage Trails said TCA called them days before an event, then wrote a bad check for $2300, a first for the local bus company in nearly 7000 trips. The bill was paid after charges were filed with the Noble County prosecutor.

Bill McKinley with American Heritage Trails said "they wouldn't return our phone calls and we just kept getting reasons why, like the check was in the mail, or the credit card payment was coming"

It's not just parents and businesses in Fort Wayne that have been hurt by the failure of TCA, they also had a gym in Noblesville and the closing of that building has now led to a police investigation.

TCA took over United Spirit in Noblesville, but last month, just 8 months after opening, the Hamilton County Sheriff's department locked the doors and the landlord has taken the case to court in a lawsuit claiming nearly $250,000 in damages due to a broken 5-year lease.

The Noblesville Police investigation centers around a non-profit booster club that was formed. They allege TCA pocketed thousands of dollars of their $13,000 that they raised.

One parent received a letter in January asking for nearly 5-thousand dollars to help keep the gym open. He agreed only after a promissory note was signed for re-payment in February. He's yet to see a dime and now feels scammed.

Dan Blackley/Former Noblesville TCA Parent said "in my opinion, my situation is fraud. Brent and Phyllis knew that they were in debt, they took money from me. I believe with never having the intention of paying it back."

Two weeks ago Dan won a court judgment against the 2 owners for 56-hundred dollars. When we contacted those owners they declined to talk on camera but told us they're still owed 7-thousand dollars more than they owe, possibly well more than 50-thousand dollars They say outstanding debts and bad business led to a situation that got out of control. They don't dispute the debts we've highlighted including owing dozens of parents money. The owners maintain they still want to pay back their creditors and say one of them was paid back yesterday.

Meanwhile, the old TCA gym in Fort Wayne is open with a new name and new owners. The gym in Noblesville remains closed.

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