Charlie Bodwell’s two teenage sons play in a baseball league in Thailand and dreamed of training in the United States. So after searching online, Bodwell signed them up for three weeks at MB Sports Camps, an “intensive, instructional program designed for the dedicated athlete.”
But on July 2, just five days before the camp was scheduled to begin, Bodwell received an e-mail from the camp’s founder and CEO that it had been canceled, with no mention of a refund.
“It is with great sadness and a broken heart that we are informing you that MBSC will not be running any camps this summer of 2019,” Mehdi Belhassan wrote.
Bodwell’s sons, 13 and 15, had already arrived in Boston to stay with friends before their first day at camp.
“And what happens? It all blows up,” Bodwell said.
The camp has cut off communication, leaving families furious and wondering where to turn to get back their money, typically thousands of dollars.
The camp’s voice mail and automated e-mail response deliver the same message.
“Due to unforeseen circumstances, MB Sports Camps is not hosting any camp the summer of 2019,” the message states. “Unfortunately, at this time we are unable to answer questions regarding this cancellation. But we are doing our best to rectify the situation. Our legal team will contact you when they are best able to answer your question.”
The Massachusetts attorney general’s office said it is reviewing six complaints over the camp’s sudden cancellation.
Many of the campers live abroad, and Bodwell, 58, said that makes it harder for parents to form an unified front.
“We are a bunch of dispersed parents. We don’t even know each other,” he said. “I suspect that this guy’s just going to hope that nobody follows up.”
Didi Odinkemelu’s twin brothers were looking forward to attending soccer camp, something their parents had spent years saving money for. They lost the $4,640 they had paid the camp, not to mention the expense of changing their sons’ flight home to Nigeria. Odinkemelu said her parents are devastated over the loss.
MB Sports Camps runs similar programs in Florida and North Carolina, according to its Facebook page. The Boston camp had been held at Curry College in Milton.
Last year, a camp employee was accused of raping a co-worker on the campus. Prosecutors said that Mario Larrondo, 50, a certified personal trainer from Tampa, Fla., assaulted a female camp counselor. MB Sports Camps said Larrondo worked as a “night patroller.”
A spokesperson from Curry College said the school cut ties with the camp in 2018 and declined to comment further.
In his e-mail message, Belhassan blamed a former partner for doing “everything in their power to sabotage our business, to give us a bad reputation and undermine our relationships, going behind our backs to ensure our business fails.”
The partner had “made a partnership with Curry College, which has been a home for us for almost two decades, making it impossible for us to host our camps in the area,” he wrote.
“My legal team made it clear that I could not share many legal details with you. But in time and when possible, I am sure you will be made aware of the nightmare we have been dealing with,” he said.
Multiple attempts to reach Belhassan for comment were unsuccessful.
Belhassan did not name the partner, but Steve Pence, president of US Sports Camps, said Curry College offered him the use of its campus this year, and he accepted. He said his camps had done marketing work with MB Sports Camps in the past, but hadn’t worked with them in the past two years.
“I don’t know for sure if he’s referring to us,” Pence said of Belhassan’s message. Pence said he has received quite a few phone calls “from frantic parents” who had enrolled their children in MB Sports Camps and that he is trying to help them as much as possible.
Bodwell’s sons are now attending US Sports Camps.
Bodwell said MB Sports Camps’ affiliation with Adidas originally gave him the confidence to enroll his sons. The camp’s website featured an image that said “Adidas Sports Camps” above the words “Powered by MBSC,” and a Google search of “Adidas sports camps” lists MB Sports Camps as the top result.
But Adidas alleges they had no idea the camp was using its brand.
“Adidas does not sponsor the MB Sports Camps and does not have any involvement in this organization,” said Maria Culp, a company spokeswoman. “We were unaware of this false representation and are taking immediate action to remove all references of our brand.”
By Friday, the MBSC website had been taken down. But on Facebook, people were looking for answers.
“I hear all 2019 camps are canceled,” wrote one. “How do we get our money back? Who should my attorney contact?’’