Basketball coach's money handling questioned

The questions come in a civil lawsuit filed by a former co-worker at Marshall High School.

Gaters is the winningest coach in Illinois basketball history. She is widely admired and much beloved far beyond Marshall High School for her coaching talents as well as her social contributions.

But the former men's basketball coach at Marshall sees Gaters in a quite different light.

Gaters has coached basketball at Marshall for 33 years. She is also the school's athletic director. For the last half-dozen years, she's organized the popular Martin Luther King boys basketball tournament and she administers the charitable fund that finances that event. That fund receives thousands of dollars in contributions.

Lamont Bryant was the successful men's basketball coach at Marshall until he was fired last fall. School officials said he'd violated a code of conduct. Bryant says he was fired in part because he asked how the tournament money was being spent.

"Well, I wanted to know where the money was going," Bryant said. "And when I talked to the principal he said it was none of my business, that Ms. Gaters was untouchable."

Bryant's federal suit against Gaters and the school board claims that the boys' team received inferior attention. It has also required Gaters to produce personal financial records.

Bryant's attorneys, in court Tuesday, said those records show that three of Gaters' 10 bank accounts had roughly $400,000 in deposits in a three-year period. That does not include her salary as a Chicago school teacher and coach.

"They show checks that were specifically made out to the MLK tournament by donors, being deposited directly in Gaters' personal bank account and don't show any corresponding check coming out," said Terry Ekl, Bryant attorney.

Gaters has said those checks are her re-imbursement because she routinely pays sizable, upfront tournament expenses out of her own pocket.

In a deposition two weeks ago, she was asked, "Are there any records that relate to that?"

"I may have some," she said.

"You think you have them at home?" she was asked.

"I really don't know," Gaters said.

A 2006 tax filing on the MLK tournament was kicked back because it listed no contributors. A revised filing was later accepted.

Lawyers for Gaters and the board would not talk on a camera, but a board spokesman said the issue has been thoroughly examined, that the allegations against Gaters are completely false and that Gaters is a basketball coach, not an accountant.

"This is a 501C3 charitable corporation which requires good bank records. If you have a check made out to that corporation made out to your own bank account, that's not a matter of bookkeeping, that's stealing," Ekl said.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Gaters called the allegations "preposterous" and an "outright, outrageous lie." She says she's provided the documentation to support her re-imbursement claims.

During her deposition two weeks ago, however, she repeatedly said she could not recall the source of funds -- some of them sizable deposits - that went into one of her bank accounts.

The civil trial on Bryant's firing is set for late October.

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