Column: Hard Times for Hockey Group

Little league embezzler deserves big league time
John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

On Monday, Kimberly Knight will appear before Judge Melinda Morris to discuss a little financial matter. It seems the Ann Arbor Amateur Hockey Association is missing a few bucks – actually, its entire operating budget, almost a million dollars – and Judge Morris would like to ask Kimberly Knight where it is.

Kimberly Knight should have a pretty good idea. From 1999 to 2007, Knight served as the association’s treasurer.

Those were heady years for the organization. Enrollment was strong, with a high of 1,200 boys and girls playing hockey. The league was bringing in enough money to pay for kids who couldn’t afford to play hockey, and start saving for a rink of their own.

By 2007, it looked like the league’s dream might be within reach. Today, it’s closer to folding altogether.

To appreciate what’s at stake here, it helps to understand that the association started way back in 1951. Its first director, John MacInnes, had played goalie for Michigan and went on to coach Michigan Tech, where he won three NCAA titles and a record 555 games. A true legend – and a good guy.

Many association alums have gone on to play college hockey, and one, Teddy Speers, once scored a goal for the Detroit Red Wings. But that’s never been the point of the league. The goal has always been to get more kids playing hockey, making them a little healthier and happier, and keeping them out of trouble. If you ask any of the league’s 20,000 alums, including yours truly, you’ll hear just how successful the league has been.

More impressive, to me, is the fact that the league’s always been run entirely by volunteers – people with day jobs and families who still devote tons of time to an often thankless task. I think about my coaches like Roy Bolles, who didn’t even have kids on the team. We’re still in touch. I think about referees like Ken Westerman and Jeff “Tiny” Bourne, who not only got up at 5:30 to make sure we didn’t kill each other – for peanuts – but would take the time between whistles to teach us about the game.

But what I remember most is going over to see the Childs, who ran the league in the seventies, and seeing the piles and piles of jerseys – hundreds of them – in their basement, where Mrs. Childs was sewing the names of the sponsors on the back of every single sweater. You don’t forget that.

When her husband Ross stepped down as the league director, the crowd gave him not one, not two, but three standing ovations. You don’t forget that, either.

What makes nonprofit groups so good – the volunteers – is what makes them such easy targets for dark souls like Knight, who did her damnedest to reverse over a half-century of good deeds by pilfering close to a million dollars. She spent it on watches, diamond earrings, and a Cadillac Escalade. They should investigate her husband, too. It’s hard to imagine he had no idea what was going on.

That’s bad enough. But what’s unforgivable is that she took all of it from little boys and girls – many of whom depend on scholarships from the league just to play the game. Even worse, Knight might not pay for it – or very much, anyway. For some reason our system of justice tends to go easy on embezzlers. I have no idea why. If she had robbed a million dollars from our homes, and not our kids, she’d be gone a long time. But Knight is currently negotiating to minimize her jail time – and she might not get any, which is not unusual in Washtenaw County.

Kimberly Knight should be forced to produce every penny of the money she stole from the kids, even if it means selling her home, her land, and her Cadillac Escalade. Better she goes under financially than the league. And she should do prison time. Real time. Hard time.

Judge Morris, I urge you to do the right thing, and protect eight-year-old kids from con artists like Kimberly Knight.

Anything less would be a crime.

[Editor's note: Kimberly Knight pled guilty to felony embezzlement charges earlier this year. She is expected to be sentenced on Monday, and faces up to 10-15 years in prison.] 

About the author: John U. Bacon lives in Ann Arbor and has written for Time, the New York Times, and ESPN Magazine, among others. His most recent book is “Bo’s Lasting Lessons,” a New York Times and Wall Street Journal business bestseller. Bacon teaches at Miami of Ohio, Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, and the University of Michigan, where the students awarded him the Golden Apple Award for 2009. This commentary originally aired on Michigan Radio.


  1. By Lorie
    August 21, 2009 at 10:05 am | permalink

    I agree that this crime was a terrible thing to do to an organization like this one.

    I disagree this campaign for a particular sentence. This brings forth an idea that somehow our system of justice is somehow a system of revenge and retribution. It is not.

    Our judges,prosecutors and defense attorneys operate in a system much larger than a single crime. They have great responsibilities as part of this system serving society at large. It is a judge’s job to come to a conclusion on sentencing. It is not our job to do so.

    In addition, these kinds of campaigns seek to influence the decision making AND political career of the judge involved. To somehow color any decision with political leanings. This is a disservice to all of the citizens served by this judge.

    I would hope the Chronicle and those other publications that have participated in this campaign by publishing your letters and columns will review their policies on this kind of thing.

  2. By Felix
    August 21, 2009 at 11:32 am | permalink

    Regardless of whether jail time is served, and regardless of the philosophy behind whatever *punishment* is meted out, the fact remains that the only way to repair the damage this crime has caused is to take whatever can be taken from the guilty party and return it to the victims.

    That isn’t a matter of retribution or vengeance, it is simply a restoration of the appropriate balance. If it causes the guilty to suffer, then so be it. How much would she be suffering if she had never stolen the money in the first place?

    I would hope that the Chronicle would continue to provide a public venue for measured and thoughtful articles ike this one, as well as reactive and groundless comments like the one from Lorie.

  3. August 21, 2009 at 11:53 am | permalink

    I’ve got no opinion on the “right”outcome. I figure that’s why we pay a prosecutor. However, if I were in that association I’d be asking what the accountant was doing. The reason you split accounting and finance is so one can act as a check on the other. Someone was asleep at the switch.

  4. By Mark
    August 21, 2009 at 12:10 pm | permalink

    It’s a heinous crime made worse by the fact that she stole money from a such a group. Bank robbers get time, and that money is insured. To embezzle such an amount and get away with a slap on the wrist (which I hope does not happen), only makes it possible for these things to happen again, because people know there will be few long-term consequences IF they get caught. I doubt that much will be repaid, and there are times when the old style stocks and pillories should make a comeback. She’d be a good candidate.

  5. August 21, 2009 at 3:47 pm | permalink

    In response to Lorie’s letter, it’s worth noting that nowhere in my commentary do I prescribe a “particular sentence” (beyond urging a strong one), indicate any “political leanings” nor advocate any “campaign” of any sort.

    What I have done is spell out exactly what Ms. Knight has done, and how her incredibly selfish acts have already damaged the lives of hundreds of children and a venerable community institution that has thrived for 58 years. I want to make clear that we’re not considering some abstract financial question here, but a real crime with real victims suffering real damages. I clearly hope the sentence is as serious as the crimes committed.

    But that’s where the column stops. No one is suggesting here that it’s anyone’s job but Judge Morris’s to decide the sentencing, and whatever anyone thinks about the sentence she delivers on Monday, it will be final. Further, the information I provided is probably news to most readers, but I imagine not to Judge Morris, whom I’m sure knows a lot more about this case than I ever will.

    The idea that we should keep quiet and let the legal authorities do their jobs in a vacuum is news to me, particularly in a democracy that values free speech. I can think of few better uses for the First Amendment than allowing victims and their advocates to state their case to the public — but that does not obligate Judge Morris to respond or even to listen. As you state, she is free to rule as she sees fit.

    But speaking up is much more palatable to me than sitting idly by while one of our community’s most positive organizations goes under before our eyes – all due to the incredible greed of one person. If the Ann Arbor Chronicle is an effective forum for such reporting, discussion and debate, than it’s a worthy successor to the newspapers our founders sought to protect.

  6. By David Shand
    August 21, 2009 at 5:21 pm | permalink

    Good article. And there were people asleep at the switch but it is incomprehensible for anyone that’s part of an organization like AAAHA to imagine that someone also connected could be so cold, calculating and greedy. People have literally donated 10′s of thousands of hours so kids could have a chance to play. For some one person to deliberately destroy that for baubles, trips and cars is hard to understand. The kids and the people involved will survive this but what an unnecessary travesty.

  7. By Rici
    August 21, 2009 at 8:29 pm | permalink

    When an embezzler is kept out of jail, are their earnings garnished somehow? I suppose that is up for negotiation at the sentencing. But that seems like a reason to keep one out of jail – so they can somehow pay off the debt (what can’t be recovered from their assets).

  8. By jcp2
    August 21, 2009 at 9:30 pm | permalink

    An article in the A2 Journal reported that Knight was prepared to pay between $1,000 to $1,500 a month in restitution. On a debt of $934,000, it would take her between 50 to 80 YEARS to pay it all back.

  9. By A2Steve
    August 22, 2009 at 12:39 am | permalink

    Sorry Lorie, but you view of the role of the legal system in our society is terribly flawed.

    The sole responsbility of the judicial branch of the US Government is to administer justice.

    Justice is the rendering to every one his due or right; his merited reward or punishment, and that which is due to one’s conduct or motives.

    The judicial system was designed to be impartial and objective in its administering of justice — and to allow society as a whole to determine what is just — not the judge.

    While the judge is ultimately responsible for implementing a just sentence as determined by broader society, the judge does not do that in a vacuum. There is a pre-sentencing hearing where society gets to weigh in on the matter and express their opinion to the judge as to how they believe punishment should be meted out within previously established guidelines.

    I for one am glad John Bacon is exercising his right as a member of society — and I do not particularly care for anyone who would advise against that.

  10. By Manuel
    August 22, 2009 at 9:15 am | permalink

    Yes, Ms. Knight may be at fault. But it is the responsibility of the boards of these nonprofits to be proper stewards of their organizations. That means paying close attention to the financials and following the money. The person that was the paid Director of the Association should have noticed the embellezing as well. People who steal money from kids have a special place in HE double hockey sticks. Those individuals who let them get away with it share the guilt.

  11. August 22, 2009 at 5:57 pm | permalink

    I think that the Ann Arbor Arsenal (youth soccer) team had huge problems with embezzlement as well. I believe this happened *twice* and think there needs to be better oversight for nonprofits.

    If someone knows about baseball please advise, there may have been a problem there as well.

    These folks are stealing from kids’ sports! I will be interested in the outcome.

  12. By Patricia Lesko
    August 23, 2009 at 9:31 am | permalink


    You wrote, “Kimberly Knight should be forced to produce every penny of the money she stole from the kids, even if it means selling her home, her land, and her Cadillac Escalade. Better she goes under financially than the league. And she should do prison time. Real time. Hard time.” That’s a very precise punishment: harsh punishment. I don’t disagree, but the only difference between clamoring for a firing squad and your piece is the elegance of your writing. Clamor away; it makes for interesting reading, but while we’re being honest about the impact of financial crimes, let’s be equally as honest about what it means to write (and publish) a piece that calls for a particular kind of punishment.

  13. By Manuel
    August 23, 2009 at 2:01 pm | permalink

    I can’t believe the compassion poured out in the comments for the criminal. How about some compassion for the kids she stole from? I guess that’s what you get in Ann Arbor.

  14. By Rod Johnson
    August 23, 2009 at 5:29 pm | permalink

    Right on! We need more vindictiveness!

  15. By Manuel
    August 24, 2009 at 7:22 pm | permalink

    See what I mean.

  16. August 24, 2009 at 9:43 pm | permalink

    Patricia and Lorie: This is an e d i t o r i a l piece. Mr. Bacon has done it well. Both you and Mr. Bacon are entitled to your respective opinions, but kindly do not suggest that an opinion in a newspaper editorial should be censored.

  17. By Mark
    August 25, 2009 at 10:36 am | permalink

    Once again, Judge Melinda Morris has reconfirmed why I did not vote for her last election. After reading about the delayed sentence for one year, my feeling is that Kimberly Knight will get off without doing any time, just like previous cases before Morris. If I rob a bank and get caught, and promise to pay it back, do you think I’d get a delayed sentence? Embezzlement of a non-profit is not some victim-less crime. I think Knight should be made to stand in front of every parent involved in the AAHA and explain how she thought she would get away with stealing from all the kids, in addition to restitution. No hockey sticks or pucks allowed, of course.

  18. By Manuel
    August 26, 2009 at 6:33 pm | permalink

    Liberals, known for being champions of free speech. Oh, nevermind. Not when you advocate for something they oppose.

  19. By Richard
    August 27, 2009 at 10:45 am | permalink


    I think if whining were an olympic sport, the Right Wing would be own more gold medals than Michael Phelps…

    Give your rant a well deserved rest. No one is denying you your right to free speech, no matter how inane your points are.