TERRETON — West Jefferson School District trustees have agreed to consider allowing a high school baseball coach with an extensive criminal past to secure funding for a multimillion-dollar baseball complex.
Newly hired West Jefferson High School baseball coach Mike Wing presented his proposal to West Jefferson trustees at a board meeting last Wednesday, according to draft minutes from the meeting.
Wing spent at least seven years in federal prison for a major investment scam in 2006, according to federal records obtained by Idaho Education News. Wing said he can raise $3 million to build a baseball complex.
West Jefferson Superintendent Dwight Richins said he was aware of Wing’s criminal history before hiring him, but stressed he believes Wing is well-intentioned.
“He has been very forthcoming about his history,” Richins said, adding that Wing’s references for the job all “spoke very highly of him.”
Wing’s baseball complex proposal includes a team training center, pitching tunnels, film room, training room, study hall, offices, weight room, turf and underground piping to melt ice and snow. Wing hopes to break ground for the project next month, according to a timeline he presented to the board.
West Jefferson’s baseball team had 13 players last year and has won a handful of games over the past two years. Enrollment at the high school is among the lowest in Idaho, with 212 students.
Wing proposed an endowment fund to pay for longterm costs associated with the project, such as maintenance, repairs and utilities. This would all come at no cost to the district or its patrons, Wing said, but would be funded from outside donations through the coach’s purported connections with wealthy donors and businesses.
Wing told EdNews that he already has several donors interested in funding the complex. He declined to share their names but said a list of donors would eventually be made available.
The school board voted unanimously to approve further “preliminary studies” of Wing’s proposal. Trustee Burt Allen stressed that the vote wasn’t a final decision. “We have not said yes or no,” Allen told EdNews. “We want to have more information at this point.”
The board also approved further consideration of a “Leadership Institute” floated by Wing. The program would help local high schoolers become better leaders and engage with the community. Wing would eventually become a staff member and lead the institute, which he said would operate on endowment funds.
“I have been blessed to work with a wide spectrum of some of the most influential leaders in America in the sectors of government, law, business, and politics,” Wing, a former attorney, wrote in his proposal for the Leadership Institute. Wing served as a White House fellow from 1992-93 during his time at Gordon College, a Christian institution in Massachusetts.
Wing said his professional background would open the way for world-renowned leaders to visit West Jefferson and speak on a range of leadership topics during an annual week-long seminar for students.
Richins said Wing’s planned curriculum for the institute looked “pretty darn awesome.” He named high-profile figures he hoped to eventually see participate in seminars, including retired military general Colin Powell and former U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.
Wing’s extensive legal and criminal past
Wing was charged with 18 counts of wire fraud by the United States District Court in East Texas, according to court documents filed in 2006. Wing pleaded guilty to at least one count and spent over seven years in prison. A judge ordered Wing to repay more than $9 million in restitution.
In 2002, Alabama sued Wing for $7.5 million. The state claimed that Wing failed on promised outside donations to fund a fifth grade space camp he organized as the director of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. The state settled the case for $500,000 in 2005, according to court records.
The Washington Post outlined a range of financial hardships at the space center following the lawsuit.
Wing was released from federal prison for wire fraud in 2014. Two years later, he was hired as the high school baseball coach at Rainier High School in Rainier, Ore., Longview, Wash.-based Daily News reported in 2016. Administrators at Rainier also said they were familiar with Wing’s past before hiring him.
In 2017, a judge sentenced Wing to a six-month prison sentence followed by a year of supervised release after Wing violated his parole, according to federal court documents. The documents show that Wing admitted to obtaining “new credit” on four different occasions in 2015 and 2016, without the knowledge of the U.S. Probation Office.
Wing told EdNews Tuesday that the parole violations stemmed from his attempt to help a woman in Utah who contacted him seeking financial aid.
Though he acknowledged his guilt in the wire fraud case, Wing criticized the federal court system that is so “stacked against” federal defendants. With little hope in winning the case, he said, a plea deal emerged as his best option.
Wing also said his criminal record overshadows positive accomplishments of his past. He pointed to his previous employment as a senior partner at a law firm and “CEO of numerous corporations.”
“I finished my time with honor and distinction,” Wing said. “When does somebody have an opportunity to give back and help kids? Why does someone have to be so judged on their past?”
Wing said he would act merely as a “cheerleader” for the projects by drumming up donations, which would go directly from donors to earmarked accounts in the district.
“I don’t want to handle anyone else’s money,” he said.
District knew about Wing’s past before hiring him
Richins said he learned of Wing’s past from Wing and from an employee background check. Richins said he and some trustees knew of Wing’s felony criminal history before they approved hiring him as the varsity baseball coach.
The district doesn’t have “a whole lot of people who want to coach baseball,” Richins said.
Still, Richins reiterated his support for Wing. “He’s done an excellent job so far,” Richins said, adding that Wing regularly delivers congratulatory notes to students throughout the district.
Trustees outlined three conditions for Wing’s baseball complex proposal. Despite Wing’s assurance that the funds will come directly from donors, one of the conditions includes requesting references on Wing’s “funding foundation.” The other conditions include having money transferred to West Jefferson Education Foundation prior to moving forward with the complex and receiving a recommendation from Richins.
Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed information for this report.