COLUMBIA CITY, Ind. (WANE) – When Columbia City Parks & Rec director Mark Green first purchased baseball cards from Sport Spot in Fort Wayne, he told the owner the cards were sold at local concession stands.
“The kids loved the cards,” Green told the owner. Green said he was allowed to buy things on the Columbia City credit card as long as he reimbursed the municipality.
That was in 2018 when he first used the card to buy $2,200 worth of baseball cards for himself, invoicing the amount for park-related business. Instead, he purchased the cards for a thriving resale business on eBay, according to court documents.
When the practice was discovered in March, Green had charged nearly $250,000 worth of cards over more than a 5-year period, stashing them in labeled boxes under his desk, according to a probable cause affidavit written by Roland Purdy, an Indiana State Police detective, the lead investigator. In addition, Purdy found 170 boxes containing sports cards at Green’s residence.
In Whitley Circuit Court, Green was charged in April with four counts of corrupt business influence, a Level 5 felony; four counts of theft, a Level 6 felony, and one count of official misconduct, also a Level 6 felony. On April 21, he was released on $50,000 bond and is due in court for an initial hearing on May 8.
How Green got away with large purchases of baseball cards for such a long time is explained in the affidavit. Unwinding the thievery started with Columbia City Clerk-Treasurer Rosie Coyle, who printed out the budget history for park office staff and asked Green to hand over his documents to Park Program Coordinator Melinda Leininger.
Green refused to do it.
While the investigation and litigation is not finished, Columbia City Mayor Ryan Daniel said invoices and bills are checked at every Board of Works meeting and the city is audited yearly by the State Board of Accounts. That SBOA audit includes the parks department.
Daniel gave credit to the city clerk-treasurer for noticing irregularities and starting her own investigation.
The best way to explain how Green got away with his scheme was “a systematic deception of city officials and staff by the former director,” he said.
“I fully recognize that residents want more answers,” Daniel wrote in an email response. “”In time, they certainly will receive them. At this point however, we will reserve further information until after a verdict is handed down.”
After Coyle initially asked for Green’s documents, she retrieved and emailed the requested documents directly to Leininger who told Coyle she wasn’t familiar with Sport Spot, located at 1015 E. Coliseum Blvd in Fort Wayne.
Coyle grew suspicious and decided to call Sport Spot. When Coyle told them she was calling from Columbia City, the person on the other end said “Oh, Mark Green.”
Most of the original invoices were difficult to read, Purdy wrote, and Green would make it look like it was equipment purchased for the city. His yearly purchases ranged from the $2,200 in 2018 to $76,000 in 2021. Just before Green was caught , he’d already bought $16,400 worth of cards this year.
On March 14, when Coyle met with Purdy, Green had turned in an invoice that morning from Sport Spot for $2,250, labeling it for “tennis and volleyball net repair.”
The next day, Purdy visited the store with several 2023 invoices. The owner looked at the invoices and pointed out they’d been altered. The owner said the store only sells sports cards and collectibles, nothing related to sports equipment. There were times when the total amount Green purchased would not be authorized by the card holder and Green used his own personal credit card for part of the sale, he said.
Purdy also asked for in-store camera surveillance that confirmed Mark Green was in the store.
On March 16, Green spoke with Purdy who “fully admitted” to purchasing cards from Sport Spot, using the city’s credit card. Green said he collects sports cards to sell on eBay and had been purchasing such cards on the city’s credit card for several years, the affidavit said.
Green claimed he had no idea how much he’d spent on these sports cards “and was afraid to find out,” the affidavit said.
Green’s business of re-selling sports cards on eBay skyrocketed during the pandemic. Green paid shipping costs using his own credit card, but did not use the purchases as a business expense for tax purposes.
Green was issued W-2 tax forms from eBay. He claimed that income on his taxes. The purchases themselves were tax-exempt based on the city’s tax-exempt status. Green said he conducted most of his eBay transactions on the computer tablet issued to him by the city.
In 2022, Green made $35,000 on eBay from these sports cards, the affidavit said.
Green also said no one else was involved in the scheme. His wife knew he was selling cards but she didn’t know how he bought them. None of the store’s staff was involved and were unaware he was wrongly using the city’s credit cards, nor were any city employees aware of what he was doing.
He came up with the idea in order to finance his son’s chosen career, Green said, but that career wasn’t indicated.