Because many of the parents and students with "questionable attendance and payment records" couldn't be reached by the DOE, the agency was able to prove only that the school swindled $14,415. CLA's lawyer, German Morales, wrote that the school was "appalled" and denied any wrongdoing, but offered to return that amount in six monthly installments. The DOE accepted.

Meanwhile, Christopher Sweeting had quietly incorporated a new name with the same initials: the Center of Life Academy.


Though no administrator was implicated as orchestrating the fraud, Bernard Wright was the only person named directly in the DOE's investigative report.

In June 2007, he and athletic director Derrick Williams founded a nonprofit together. It shared an address — 2025 NW First Ave. — with CLA. The Urban Youth Foundation, Williams says, was supposed to "provide boxing, fishing trips, tutoring — all that good stuff" for local hard-knocks kids, many of them from the school.

Before the 2008 Marlins baseball season, Wright and Williams struck a deal with the Boston Culinary Group, the company handling concessions for what was then known as Dolphin Stadium: Urban Youth's kids would help sell food at baseball games, and their wages would go toward "camping trips," Williams says. That didn't work out so well.

On June 17, Boston Culinary's nonprofit manager, Andre Beneses, wrote a formal letter to Williams, citing "well over $8,000 in shortages since mid-April." Wright had been supervising the kids at the stadium. "The shortages are a result [of] either individual cash register members taking money or the group leader himself taking money." Beneses spread the word about the theft. The Urban Youth Foundation "would never be able to fundraise in stadiums or arenas in Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach."

(Reached by phone, Beneses told New Times: "I'm not permitted to comment on that.")

Williams says he doesn't know whether Wright took the money. But he's pissed. "He fucked up my nonprofit," he mutters matter-of-factly, shoveling mustard with a piece of chicken at a North Miami Beach Pollo Tropical and then chewing it. "The taste of shit don't sit easy in my mouth."

But Bernard Wright seems at home in such chaos. Sheldon Brown claims he went to Principal Wright several times with concerns about state scholarship money and his escalating feud with Rushae Sweeting. Wright seemed uninterested, Brown says. "He was always, 'I really don't have time for that; you handle it.'"

But when Brown failed a basketball player who was "selling drugs and coming to class high," the teacher says, he saw Wright come alive. "That made Bernard very upset."

Brown claims that more than once, he discovered grades had been changed to fit the school's needs — presumably to keep tuition coming in and sports talent passing. "He had no discipline," Brown says of Wright. "But when it came to basketball, he was a different person. He demanded respect. That's why the school had so many problems. The only thing he cared about was basketball."


In fall 2008, a Serbian high school senior took the long flight to Miami.He was headed, he believed, to a prestigious upstart academy where he would play basketball and get a scholarship to a top American college like Kansas State or Duke. Though the kid's parents paid for the plane ticket, his tuition in Miami was comped. "There was a scholarship or something," Serbian basketball scout Mihailo "Mike" Vidovic recalls. Vidovic had arranged for the transfer after Jerome Smith and Bernard Wright emailed him.

If Lubomir "LJ" Rustic expected ivy-covered school buildings and a clean dorm room, he was rudely awakened. He was shuttled to a house "in a really tough neighborhood," Vidovic recalls over the phone from Serbia. There he met his ceiling-scraping roommates, who greeted him in halting English. Says Vidovic: "There were so many kids and no adults."

One of those roomies was Kelvyn Valdez, who had just flown from his native Dominican Republic. Valdez was playing ball in Santo Domingo when a man approached "and said [he] could get a scholarship" to college, he explains on the phone from Iowa City, where he now attends Indian Hills Community College. Valdez claims the man, named Julio Subero, boasted of connections to the University of Miami and North Carolina University.

That's a surprisingly boldface name. At the time, Dominican-born Julio Subero was president of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), a global governing body for basketball. He resigned in 2009. Subero did not respond to multiple messages requesting comment.

Valdez recalls the house was a three-bedroom in Opa-locka. Though neither Valdez nor Vidovic names the other roommates, they were presumably of the crop of basketball players Wright and Smith imported that fall: Ivory Coast natives Jacques "Willy" Kouassi, Bernard Morena, and Ismaila Dauda, and Nigerian Paul Sati Gombwer.

Coaches brought them food, Valdez says. There was an adult living with them, but Valdez can't remember the man's name.

The living situation freaked out the Serbian kid, says Vidovic. LJ complained to his parents, who set him up with compatriots living in South Beach. Once there, he claimed he was injured and refused to go to school.

On October 6, Smith sent a testy email to the Serbian scout. He copied Bernard Wright, Derrick Williams, and Christopher Sweeting on the typo-laden message. "Mike, LJ is my responsibility and if he doesn't show the effort that needed for school I will have no choice but to suspend his I-20 visa," Smith wrote. "LJ needs to come to school, attend practices, and let us prepare him for the next level. To make matters worst I don't have a way of getting in touch with the people he is staying with or him. I have no problem releasing him from the I-20 status, but as you know if anything happen to him it would be your responsibility not mind."

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10 comments
zhenglishu
zhenglishu

Finally (48 hours) time limit to buy.

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JJFLOJ
JJFLOJ

HOW DOES MIAMI AND THE FSHSL PUT UP WITH THIS?IT IS A DISGRACE TO FLORIDA AND BASKETBALL!!!!

Ttsturrup
Ttsturrup

fhsaa and everyknows bernard wright got the players for shakey and frank martin since the 90''s.

Beware6876
Beware6876

The Times should do more investigation of President Of Global Academy " Jeffrey L. Wells", thats the crack head in the story

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Ttsturrup
Ttsturrup

bernard wright used to be asst. at carol city high with coach bell.coach bell was my teacher at carol city middle.

Goober
Goober

I must say this is one of the greatest stories I have ever read. What pure insanity

MNT Fan
MNT Fan

This is the Miami New Times I know and love.

Awesome hit piece!

 
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