Five weeks after the Baltimore Mariners claimed their first American Indoor Football Association championship, the future of the team appears in limbo after its entire front office resigned Friday amid allegations that a member of its ownership group embezzled $1.6 million from a Laurel mechanical engineering firm.
Dwayne Wells, 50, was charged with wire fraud for allegedly embezzling the money from his firm, Ryco Associates, then using $109,500 of it to purchase a stake in the Mariners, according to documents filed with the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt. Prosecutors say he also used $18,000 to pay for team-related expenses at 1st Mariner Arena and fraudulently approved a $1,000 payment to the Baltimore Blast cheerleaders.
"While this situation is surprising and upsetting to myself, all the players, coaches, staff and fans of the Mariners, I am saddened to say the entire front office staff of the Mariners will no longer be working for the Mariners," general manager Greg Justice said in a statement.
Justice said league officials hope to field a team in Baltimore next season but have yet to secure ownership.
John Morris, the CEO of the AIFA and a Baltimore native, said, "I'm as shocked and surprised as everybody else is about this. I brought a team here when I formed this league because my dream has always been to have professional sports here in the town I grew up in. We will continue to play there, whether it's under the Mariners name if this situation gets straight, or we have to move in a different direction."
Wells was scheduled to appear in court Friday afternoon.
According to charging documents, Wells, a resident of Potomac, created several limited liability corporations, using them to embezzle from Ryco. The entities bore names such as BRIG LLC, which, according to prosecutors, stood for "Boys Ravaging Innocent Girls," and DAD "Drinkers and Dreamers" Group.
He's also charged with using his corporate credit card for unauthorized expenses, including: tens of thousands of dollars to The Nest, a bar/restaurant in Baltimore in which Wells eventually acquired an interest; money for travel for Wells and his wife; and thousands of dollars in expenses to an adult-entertainment establishment in Baltimore.
Wells could receive 20 years in prison.
Kicker J.R. Cipra, one of the heroes of Baltimore's 57-42 title game win over Wyoming, learned of the situation after a workout Friday afternoon.
"I just hope that everything ends up smoothing its way out, and we take care of whatever we need to take care of in the offseason," Cipra said.