Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Trenton's "Team Hope" Loses Its Haven

UPDATE 4 AT 8:45 p.m. SUNDAY: El Latino Expreso Editor Carlos Avila broadcast Thursday's episode of "En Contacto Con la Comunidad" live from Franklin Park. That's where Tony Zayas was holding another outdoor training session for his martial-arts students, one night after training them at Columbus Park amid accusations that a City Hall boss instructed an underling to go to the park to tell ranger director to stand down after he had gone to tell Zayas he wasn't allowed to teach there without proper permits.

On Thursday, Avila wanted to tell the story of the Team Hope saga to his viewers because 99 percent of Zayas' students are young Latino children.

At first blush, Zayas is awesome with the kids, everything a mentor should be to his students. He has 5th-degree black belts in 3 disciplines and black belts in 4 or 5 other disciplines. He is teaching a segment of the next generation of Latino kids to be physically fit of mind, body and soul. It's a great thing to see in person. The kids respond to him, too. They love being there, and they are behaved during the intense training -- well, as intense as it can be without one thinking Zayas is overworking them. The kids applaud each other's accomplishments after each drill, and Zayas is super-encouraging to each kid regardless of ability. I can't stress enough how good Tony Zayas is with his students.

One concern arose, however, as the sun melted toward the west. It got cold fast, and here are a bunch of 6- to 10-year-olds wearing little in the way of warmth. So that is a knock against Zayas and his night training in the park.

The live broadcast recorded in 4 or 5 pieces. There were a few empty ones. Luckily, one of them was when Avila beckoned Zayas to explain himself in front of the camera. Because of the way the camera was positioned, you get only a few glimpses of Tony. Knowing that, I took still shots and interspersed them with the video, during which Avila sked Zayas to explain the receipt that a mother produced suggesting he charged her $400 for what was supposed to be a free program funded by federal grant money. Zayas said he's never seen the woman who provided the receipt even though Avila interviewed her minutes earlier.

Most of the showdown is in Spanish, but Zayas said a few things in English about Bill McLaughlin that suggests his Team Hope partner told him to collect money -- and also had plans to move Zayas' kids out of the building. Zayas also said McLaughlin was starting to freak out about Team Hope's center at South Broad Street on a regular basis because of constant battles with Tony Mack's administration. During the interview, McLaughlin showed Avila the letter he gave Zayas telling him to stop charging. In the second video, Avila explains what he and Zayas talked about.

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UPDATE 3 FRIDAY NIGHT: Team Hope found a new home at Emily Charter Fisher School, which is fighting Gov. Chris Christie to stay open because test scores there are among the worst in the state. Read the story HERE.

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UPDATE 2 AT 8:40 P.M. WEDNESDAYBelow is the special interview Freedom Green conducted with McLaughlin tonight. McLaughin again denied every allegation against him.

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UPDATE AT 4:25 P.M. -- Well, the piece of information would have to be analyzed something fierce to prove wrongdoing. It is a receipt (above) that has the name Zayas written on it a few times as well as the number 340 next to the $ symbol. It is dated Feb. 24, 2011. And the $340 apparently went for "Free Martial Arts Program" -- which was totally legible. Yet look at the amount written in the bottom-left corner next to payment: $360.

But to be honest, doctor prescriptions -- and we all know how illegible they look on paper -- are easier to read than the rest of the chicken-scratch on the receipt. I was given a photocopy of the receipt, though I saw the original, which was a mess.

The mother who provided the alleged evidence said she didn't know of any other parents who got receipts from Zayas.

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TRENTON -- The Trentonian is about to obtain information that would suggest city native and martial-arts black belt Tony Zayas charged parents up to $400 so their kids could be a part of "Team Hope" -- a free rec program for the city's youth.

Then at 8 tonight, retired city cop Bill McLaughlin -- boxing instructor at Team Hope -- will appear on Trentonian TV to talk about the controversy and the heartbreak of moving out of the facility at 499 South Broad Street by order of Mayor Tony Mack. McLaughlin and Zayas cleared equipment out this morning.

Here is a mash-up with video, still photos and audio of the hour I was at Team Hope.

A cop dog sniffed the place out because McLaughlin thought someone from the city could have tried to set him up by placing drugs there after the order to vacate. McLaughlin said the city should be in mourning right now because 86 kids have been put on the streets.

I'll update this entry later.