3 ON YOUR SIDE: Is 'Coach' fundraising, or selling worthless gift cards?
HAMILTON COUNTY, TN. (WRCB) -- Lots of school clubs and youth sports teams have good reasons for fundraising during the holiday season; you can help a good cause and no longer have to worry about 'stocking stuffers.'
But one Hamilton County business owner and a customer want to make sure you don't suffer the same fate they did; an empty wallet, and an empty stomach.
So they called 3 On Your Side.
"I feel like an idiot," the business owner says.
So much so, that he doesn't want to show his face, or reveal his name or his business, except to say that his shop is on Highway 58.
That's where he, and his customer, Charlie Poe, encountered a middle-aged man in a bluish-purple athletic jacket Thursday.
"He was calling himself 'Coach Smith' with the Brainerd High School girl's basketball team," the business owner says.
"He told me he was an AAU (Amateur Athletics Union) coach for a girl's team," Poe says. "They were raising money to go to play this other team that was undefeated like they were."
"Even said they were 21-0!," the owner tells 3 On Your Side. "It's crazy, because I didn't know if basketball season had even started yet."
Red Flag #1: the season *has* started for Brainerd, and other Tennessee high schools, but only this week. Brainerd's principal tells us his girls' team isn't fundraising.
The next AAU season begins next March, after middle-and high school seasons end.
"And we don't have any of these-type fundraisings going on," says Jerry Codispoti, AAU's regional director for Tennessee and Alabama.
The Brainerd Basketball Association Youth League is playing. But it has no high school division.
Of course, 'Coach Smith' was willing to make them a deal.
"He had a Shell gift card for $100," the business owner says. "He had Applebee's gift certificates, multiple other cards."
"He said he'd sell me that $50 one for $40 or he'd sell me two for $60. Obviously I bought two for $60."
"I took a couple of Chili's gift certificates for about $20," Poe says.
All the cards were still shrink-wrapped, or packaging that didn't appear tampered, both men say.
"It all looked legit, sounded legit," the business owner says.
But the way 'Coach Smith' departed, raised Red Flag #2.
"He walked out toward the highway and there were no other vehicles parked out that way," Poe says. "I just sort of shrugged it off."
Neither should have.
"I checked the balance on the gift cards and they were bogus," the business owner says. "By the time I figured it out he was already gone."
But 'Coach Smith' left more than calling cards. The business owner's surveillance cameras captured several images of a white man who appears to be in his mid-50s. He has white hair, a medium build, and the air and dress one would expect of a coach, his alleged victims says.
Chattanooga Police have received a complaint, according to Public Information Officer Nathan Hartwig.
"But it hasn't been reviewed yet," Hartwig says. "Until it is, it won't go to the Fraud Unit."
The alleged victims are hopeful police will move quickly.
"Hopefully somebody can identify this guy," the business owner says, touting the surveillance pictures. "Maybe we can put him in jail or do something."