Students allege mistreatment by leader of pricey basketball academy

Published: Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013 - 10:38 am

The website for CCSE Preparatory Academy, which opened in Roseville in 2012, promises a lot.

For $10,000 a year – another $5,000 for live-in students – the mostly high school-age enrollees are told to expect a top-notch education and intensive athletic training that will help them land a scholarship at an elite basketball college.

The online pitch, with images of first-class athletic facilities, attracted students from the state, nation and world, though it's hard to tell exactly how many. That's just one of many details about CCSE Academy and its president, 24-year-old Francis Ngissah, that are difficult to pin down.

One thing, though, is clear. At least three foreign students and one from Sacramento allege that their experience at the school was more of a horror flick than a highlight film.

On Jan. 8, the four students, accompanied by a teacher, walked in to the Roseville Police Department.

The students, who were living in a rented six-bedroom Roseville house that served as the academy, told investigators they had been mistreated by Ngissah. They had been forced to stand in a corner, restrained with zip ties, and sometimes had clothespins clamped on their nipples as punishment, they said.

The following day, Ngissah was arrested on suspicion of inflicting corporal punishment on the three teenagers and one young adult. He was released on $100,000 bail.

The three foreign students, a 15-year-old from France, a 17-year from Brazil and a 20-year-old from France, remain in the area in temporary homes. The academy now has no students.

Since Ngissah's arrest, the investigation has grown to encompass more possible victims, the legality of the school and whether it was paying its bills, said Roseville Police Sgt. Darin DeFreece, who is supervising the case.

"I don't know where the investigation is going to lead us," he said.

DeFreece said he initially told media outlets the alleged assaults were not sexual in nature but is no longer certain.

A message posted to the academy's Facebook page backs Ngissah, saying he will be exonerated once the facts come to light.

Attempts to contact Ngissah were unsuccessful. No one answered the door on a recent visit to the Woodleaf Circle house where Ngissah and the students lived. A reporter's card was left.

Shortly thereafter, a man called The Bee and identified himself as Peter Oates, a spokesman for the academy's board of governors. Oates said the kids themselves were playing with zip ties and clothes pins and then accused Ngissah when they got in trouble.

"You have some kids here that flipped the story," he said.

Oates described Ngissah as a small man, no taller than 5 feet 8 inches, and said young athletes allowing him to restrain them was improbable.

"There is a lot that doesn't add up," he said. "They are all stronger than him."

DeFreece said the zip ties and clothes pins were used as punishment within the "boot camp mentality" of the school.

He said the athletes endured the unusual punishment because they didn't want to dash their dreams of playing basketball in college and the NBA. The students also told police they had received scholarships and feared their parents would be on the hook for $50,000 tuition if they dropped out.

The academy's website does not mention scholarships or $50,000 tuition.

DeFreece said police were not familiar with Oates through their investigation. Oates declined to name any members of the CCSE board.

He offered information about the academy's education plan. CCSE had an arrangement with Core Placer Charter, which primarily assists home-schooling families in Placer County. The students were meeting with a general education teacher and three specialists, he said.

Core Placer Director Kathryn Peak confirmed a relationship with CCSE Academy, but said her organization's role is to oversee progress, not to provide day-to-day instruction.

She said she was "seeing that the students weren't getting enough support at home" and was thinking about ending the deal.

Peak said one of her teachers accompanied the students to report the alleged abuse.

"One of the students confided to her that some abusing things were going on," Peak said. "She told the program coordinator (Ngissah) that she was taking them on a field trip."

Sports academies serve as quasi-high schools that allow top-caliber athletes to sharpen their skills against other top teams. In some cases, colleges urge athletes to enroll in a prep academy to give them an extra year to hone their game and preserve their eligibility. The academies can also serve as an opportunity for foreign players to improve English skills.

CCSE's website lists nine players, including one from Russia, and a full schedule of games, mostly against other prep academies, including nationally known Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nev.

The school played three games, with two wins, before the legal trouble started.

Keith Moss, a former assistant basketball coach at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, said he signed with CCSE in June to help recruit players and in August to coach the team. But Moss, who lives in Roseville, soon left when he wasn't paid.

"My funding wasn't coming though the way it was supposed to," Moss said in a phone interview. "I just read the writing on the wall."

Moss is still listed on the Website as coach, though he said he has repeatedly asked to have his name removed.

Moss said the plan was for resident assistants to live with the students, but they too dropped out of the picture and Ngissah took on that role.

Not much could be learned about Ngissah.

Oates said Ngissah attended Harvard University. Told that Harvard could not verify his attendance, Oates said Ngissah had used a different name while attending the school, but declined to provide that name to The Bee.

Roseville police said Ngissah attended Visions in Education Charter School in Carmichael. State Sen. Darrell Steinberg's office said that in 2007 Ngissah was one of two students recommended by the school for a Senate Scholastic Achievement Award and was one of a couple hundred people to receive the honor.

CCSE Prep Academy is not Ngissah's first attempt to create a sports-oriented school.

In 2011, he approached the Robla School District in Sacramento with a proposal to create the Cobbinah-Cross Sports & Entertainment Preparatory Academy. The plan was to open with 410 students during the 2011-12 school year, before growing to 840 students.

Robla District Superintendent Ruben Reyes said the board had some serious problems with the plan.

"He seemed relatively young and inexperienced. It was clear they had never written a petition or run a charter school before," Reyes said.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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