Rainier High School's new baseball coach, Mike Wing, spent seven years in a federal prison camp after he pleaded guilty to wire fraud in 2007. The courts ordered him to repay $9.1 million to the victims of a Ponzi scheme involving large business mergers.
In 2002, the state of Alabama sued Wing for $7.5 million, alleging he failed to pay promised donations to fund a fifth-grade space camp he organized in his role in 1998 as executive director of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. In 2005, the state settled the case for $500,000, court documents show.
Rainier school administrators say they were aware of Wing's past troubles before tentatively hiring him March 16 as the head baseball coach, deciding, in the words of Superintendent Michael Carter, “to give him a second chance.”
“We're very pleased to have someone of his experience and caliber that knows the game as well as he does to work with our young men,” Carter told The Daily News late last week.
Wing, 56, has coached and played baseball at the college level, served as a college professor, attorney and says he has managed several companies.
Administrators have yet to formally notify school board members about Wing's background, but they say they will do so Monday night when the board is scheduled to vote on whether to confirm Wing as the head coach.
Several parents of players on the baseball team are aware of the situation and were allowed to ask Wing questions at a parents' meeting last Monday.
“People are always concerned, but after he met with parents, I got great feedback. The parents feel comfortable,” Carter said.
Carter and Rainier High School principal/athletic director Graden Blue said they have “full faith” in Wing as the Columbians' baseball coach.
Wing has spent the majority of his time in Tucson, Ariz., taking care of his parents the past two years after his release from prison in 2014. He says his business expertise in the corporate world and coaching experience at the University of Colorado and LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas, make him a good fit for the position in Rainier.
He said he's been the CEO or president of nearly a dozen companies while earning six graduate degrees, becoming senior partner of a law firm and working in two White House administrations as part of a fellowship program.
He also is father to three children and was married for 29 years before his divorce three years into his prison sentence, he said.
Wing said he applied for the Rainier coaching job because he felt called by his faith to help small school kids believe they can become something big. The scenery of the Pacific Northwest also appealed to him, though he had to move away from his aging father. He said he believes coaching is a full-time job and has no plans on moving back to Tucson in the near future.
“I'd like to pour my life into the game and love for the game,” Wing said. “My track record shows I give an enormous amount and that's what I plan on doing here. ... The historical stuff that has nothing to do with the stewardship and shepherding of young kids' lives — I struggle to see the relevance (to coaching).”
For the past three weeks, Wing has been coaching the Columbians as a tentative hire. The Rainier baseball team is Oregon's Class 3A's No. 2-ranked team with a record of 5-2. Wing grabbed the entire team's attention from his first practice, March 17, just a day before the team's first game — a 4-3 win over Dayton.
“He's a class act guy and a pleasure to work with,” said assistant coach Ron Guisinger, who noted Wing had a long conversation with him about his background. “I think he's one of the best hires Rainier has had. … There's a lot to learn from him.”
Wing was practicing law through much of the 2000s as part of a Houston and Washington, D.C.,-based law firm. His specialty was mergers and acquisitions. After an anonymous tip, the FBI investigated Wing for allegedly defrauding wealthy investors.
The fraud involved “bridge” loans, in which the law firm would ask individuals to loan money to help close deals between large companies. The courts found Wing to be gaining personal benefit in the individuals' investments and the indictment stated he would use new investors to pay off others. The indictment alleged he was pocketing money.
Instead of going to trial to fight 18 charges of wire fraud, which could have put him in prison for life if he was convicted, he pleaded guilty to one count and a sentence of 10 years, court documents show.
“To risk a trial and a sentence of unconscionable duration, it became not a matter of guilt or innocence, but of managing if I was ever going to go home again,” Wing said. “Should I forever be judged by that? I hope not.”
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He also was sentenced to pay restitution to victims in the amount of $9.1 million, in payments of 10 percent of his gross income on a monthly basis. Wing, who is set to make about $3,600 for coaching the team this season, says he has no plans to hold any other job. He said he has kept up with his restitution payments. As of last year, he still owed more than $9 million, according to Arizona court documents.
After his sentencing in 2007, he resigned from the Texas Bar in lieu of discipline and was disbarred from the Washington, D.C., Bar.
Eight years before his sentencing in Texas, Wing found himself in hot water with the state of Alabama after running a program for the U.S. Space and Rocket Center to send 12,000 fifth-graders to space camp. Wing calls the program “one of his proudest achievements,” but the state alleged there was trouble with the program.
Court documents state Wing assured the Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission he had corporate backing for the camp and the money would come through after he had proof the fifth-graders attended. When the money never came, Wing resigned, at the request of members of the Exhibit Commission, the documents state.
The documents don't suggest Wing benefited personally from the camp, but allege the state was concerned it was left holding the bag for the costs of the camp when Wing's corporate sponsors never came through.
Alabama sued Wing in 2002 for $7.5 million — the amount the state said it lost — after his resignation in 1999. A judge in 2005 ordered Wing to pay Alabama $500,000 plus court costs.
Wing said Alabama sued him to save face for the loss of money. “I assure you I would not become senior partner of a law firm if there were any issues about what happened at Alabama,” Wing said.
In between his time with the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and his sentencing in Texas, Wing earned a law degree from South Texas College and worked as a law professor at LeTourneau University.
The university's athletic director offered him the baseball coach position when it became vacant and Wing was head coach at LeTourneau for two years, taking the team to the playoffs for the first time in 40 years.
Since he promised to stay as the coach until the team made the playoffs, he departed the team in 2003 after his second season, when the squad came within a game of the NCAA Division III World Series. During his time at LeTourneau, he also worked at his law firm in Houston, commuting back and forth daily.
Blue and the rest of the Rainier administration were put in a tough position when their original hire for this season resigned just days after the first practice because of health trouble. Wing was one of multiple applicants to apply for the position, Blue said.
Wing went through several phone interviews and a background check from an “outside agency,” Carter said.
Wing's past criminal record was disclosed in a letter Wing sent to the Rainier School District before his first interview, Wing said. The letter explained the circumstances of his felony and the sense of perspective he gained from the experience.
Blue and Carter said they couldn't release any paperwork, including the letter, or information regarding hiring personnel. The Daily News has filed a public information request.
Carter and Blue have taken the time to go through “several” reference checks, Carter said, but also rely on the Rainier School District Human Resource Department's statement that Wing's background check cleared him to be hired.
“He's been transparent through the whole process,” Carter said.
The school board meets at 7 p.m. Monday in the Rainier School District boardroom, located in a portable on Rainier's campus. The meeting is open to the public.
Carter said he's seen employees be denied by the school board before, but hopes they can move forward with the hiring of Wing.
“I've done my time, I've done it honorably and in exemplary manner,” Wing said. “How long are you supposed to keep paying?”