Hard Times for Sailing Community

Published on January 24th, 2018

Located in South Carolina, Clemson University is home to an active sailing club and racing team based on Lake Hartwell. With a mission to share the sport of sailing with the surrounding community, the program was recently robbed and needs help. Club commodore Cameron Rylance provides this tale of trouble and recovery.

The Clemson University Sailing Club is a group of students interested in and dedicated to the sport of sailing. Comprised of novices, experts, and every level of sailor in between, the Club serves as a unique mechanism for capturing students’ interests and introducing a lifelong enthusiasm for the sport.

In November 2015, Clemson University Sailing Club held their annual officer elections. It was no surprise when highly involved Junior Mateo Gomez ran for and was elected Treasurer. A good friend of many other officers, Gomez was a frequent regatta participant and active, well-liked member of the Club.

But nearly two years later, both the Club and the University would get a rude awakening when the Club credit card was declined for a nominal purchase at a hardware store.

Mateo Gomez successfully ran for his second term as Treasurer when former Commodore Philip Burkhardt took office at the head of the Club. The transition in leadership appeared to be smooth as Gomez departed for a semester-long co-op. While communications with Gomez became understandably more challenging, the Club continued functioning as it has in the past.

In June of 2017, as Vice Commodore Cameron Rylance took the initiative to try to reach proposed budget spending provided to the Club by the Clemson Undergraduate Student Government, he needed Gomez’s access to the Club accounts. With no return to any of his numerous emails, calls, and texts, Rylance became frustrated but unsuspicious.

In the fall of 2017, Gomez is continually hard to reach but briefly visits the Club table at an interest fair for Clemson student organizations. Shortly after, Burkhardt gets denied when trying to purchase new locks with the Club card.

Now suspicious, Rylance phones Gomez’s roommates with conviction; if Gomez does not return the emails and calls of other Sailing officers, he will be removed from office. The next day, Gomez goes to the bank and issues a new debit card on the Club account in his name. A week later, he calls in his resignation.

What followed shocked the entire Clemson community. After sitting down with faculty advisor Robert Baldwin, it is discovered how nearly $20,000 in charges could not be accounted for according to Club records, including over a thousand dollars in overdraft charges.

Payments made directly to Clemson University Student Financial Services corresponded with Gomez’s student ID number; meaning he had used the club’s funding to pay for his tuition. Direct deposits made directly to Gomez were uncovered, as well as thousands of dollars spent in downtown establishments. All club accounts were completely drained of funds.

Once Club officers and Prof. Baldwin had concrete evidence linking Gomez and the unaccredited charges, university and state auditors, student affairs, Clemson University Police Department, and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division were all contacted in due process. Gomez was pulled out of class by SLED and taken into custody, where he admitted to all charges. He is currently awaiting trial.

Since then, the Club has been working diligently to determine the environment that allowed this corruption to exist. By placing too much power and responsibility with the treasurer, fraud was possible. The Club has restructured to provide bank account access to the commodore, faculty advisor, and vice commodore, as well as the treasurer, and require monthly reports including bank statements in front of the entire general body of the Club.

Each of the newly elected officers, instated in December 2017, have shown a renewed commitment to transparency and accountability, of all positions.

The Club is reaching out to the greater sailing community for support during this time of growth and rebuilding. As one of the largest club sports at Clemson University, the club plays a very important role in growing the sport of sailing. Without clubs like it, starting the journey to sailing proficiency would be very intimidating to someone outside the sailing community.

By offering sailing lessons to anyone who is willing to learn, the club has grown from around one hundred to almost two hundred in just a few short years. This was only possible because of the funding generously donated by the club’s alumni and the University.

With this money stripped away from the club, members and officers have come together to find innovative ways to help. The club is hoping that with the help of the greater sailing community, it can continue serving as a vital stepping stone to the incredible sport of sailing.

Please help in any way you can by donating to the Club:

Report written by Cameron Rylance and Marilyn Hazlett.

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