VANCOUVER -- Exactly a year ago, Coquitlam Little League was in Williamsport, Pa., competing in the 2019 Little League World Series.

But now, the league is facing what it calls a "devastating situation," after discovering it is missing nearly $230,000 from its accounts.

The disappearance was disclosed to parents on Aug. 14 in an email to parents from Coquitlam Little League president Sandon Fraser.

The email states that the shocking discovery was made during the processing of refunds for some 700 families due to the cancellation of the 2020 spring season in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, Aug. 3, the League began what it calls “an informal investigation” after weeks of emails inquiries into the status of refund cheques.

On June 9, the board says it had $229,971.31 in financial assets, but the email to parents states that the league’s funds are currently under $3,000, and some suppliers are still waiting to be paid.

“The board of directors was shocked by these findings, as we expect you are as you read this," the email says. "We wanted to share this information with you as soon as possible and to ask for your patience as this serious matter is investigated.”

The email says the league is “committed to having a an independent/third party accounting firm perform an analysis of the League’s finances,” and that Coquitlam RCMP is also investigating.

“This is a substantial sum that we’re talking about,” Coquitlam RCMP Cpl. Michael McLaughlin, who confirms this is a criminal investigation, told CTV News. 

But McLaughlin cautioned, “Until we can prove a criminal offence has happened, that doesn’t necessarily mean a crime has been committed.”

Since being made aware of the situation on Aug. 8, RCMP have referred the file to fraud specialists in the Economic Crime Unit.

“Fraud investigations are typically very complex,” McLaughlin said. But once search warrants and production orders are made, he says the evidence can often “give us a very complete picture.“

Fraser declined an interview request from CTV News, saying in an email, “As this is an ongoing investigation, I cannot provide additional comments at this time.”

A virtual conference call will be held to answer questions from parents on Saturday.

For now, in his email to parents, Fraser urged, “We don’t have all the facts at this stage of the investigation…we would ask you to please not engage in speculation or gossips about how or why this happened.”

RCMP say fraud complaints from charities or sports organizations are unfortunately not unusual.

McLaughlin has some general advice for all non-profits: “Make sure there are checks and balances in place … you never want to have one person who has control over all the money.” 

At least one Coquitlam business has offered to help in light of the news. The Taphouse Coquitlam will be contributing $1 from all burgers sold this month to Coquitlam Little League, plus all proceeds from 50/50 draws held on Canucks game nights.

“It just killed me when I heard,” says Taphouse operations manager Owen Coomer, a former Coquitlam Little League player. “To me it was just like, I don’t think 2020 could get any worse.”

The pub is also accepting cash donations and cheques which will be forwarded to Coquitlam Little League.

“It’s the least we could do,” Coomer says.