Sports

Franklin coach is players' landlord

A Stockton high school coach whose football program has been accused of recruiting teenagers from American Samoa is renting a house to the teens' guardian, according to records obtained by the Sacramento and Modesto Bees.

"It's one of 200 (houses) I own," Franklin High coach Tom Verner said Wednesday, a day after he denied renting to the teenagers' guardian until The Bee obtained the property records.

"And yes, I've rented to (Gwen and Steve) Seumaala for about two years."

Before the start of this school year, Gwen Seumaala became the legal guardian of three teenagers from American Samoa who the governing body for high school sports in the Sacramento region has alleged were improperly recruited by Franklin. Seumaala's husband, Steve, is a Franklin football volunteer and the brother of assistant coach Jeff Seumaala.

The CIF Sac-Joaquin Section released a 200-page report Tuesday asserting that since at least 2004 Jeff Seumaala and his mother, Eleimanu Seumaala, who lives in U.S. territory, contacted some of American Samoa's best teenage football players and tried to persuade them to transfer to Franklin.

In many cases, according to the report, Eleimanu Seumaala told parents that associates of Franklin would pay for all their sons' expenses, including first-class air fare, and room and board.

The Seumaalas could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Verner said neither he nor anyone connected to the football program has broken any rules.

"Anybody saying me or my assistants paid for anything is ridiculous," said Verner, who is the owner of a multimillion-dollar real estate and land development company in Stockton.

Franklin school officials and the Stockton Unified School District have said they stand behind Verner and the football program.

The report asserted that Steve and Jeff Seumaala provided meals and lodging to at least 10 athletes who moved from American Samoa to play football at Franklin since 2004, all violations of CIF rules.

This school year, the report said, Franklin has three teenagers from American Samoa who play on the offensive and defensive line. The team has become a regional threat.

The report was written by a Sacramento lawyer and a consultant who has investigated cases for the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The section hired the pair after receiving a phone call from a football coach in American Samoa who alleged that someone from Franklin was recruiting his players.

The section then flew the pair to American Samoa to conduct interviews with parents and teens the section believed were recruited by associates of the Franklin football program.

Meanwhile, the parents of two of the players now living with Gwen Seumaala have filed a lawsuit against the section and its commissioner, Pete Saco. The lawsuit alleges that the section's investigators pried into private matters without authorization from American Samoa authorities or the consent of the teenagers, and that the investigators made inappropriate comments and asked leading questions.

"The lawsuit is a non-issue for the CIF," Saco said.

Verner disagreed.

"They went over there and bullied and pushed those people around," he said. "You can't threaten those kids and tell their parents they could lose their eligibility in college if they don't cooperate. That's not right."

The section is expected to announce a ruling against Franklin within the next two weeks. The ruling could include forcing the football team to forfeit all its games as well as banning the team from the playoffs for the next two years.

Franklin's school officials have said they expect to appeal any punishment, while the section has said it is prepared to take the matter to court if necessary to enforce its ruling.

The Modesto Bee's Will DeBoard contributed to this report.

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