Employee owed thousands for work in after-school program, records show 

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — Nathan Baller first caught 13 Investigates’ attention earlier this year when we learned the Houston man was planning a benefit concert for the victims of the tragedy at Robb Elementary in Uvalde.

The event had a website to sell tickets and collect donations, but the concert never happened, and families say they never saw a dime.

Then, we started talking to Baller’s former employees at his after-school soccer program in Houston, and they told us he owed them money.

Baller submitted a cover letter to the City of Houston for a position on the Amateur Sports Park Board at the beginning of 2019. In it, he described his program, Baller Academy, as an organization claiming to create “life-changing experiences” for children through soccer.

The cover letter called Baller Academy one of the largest after school soccer programs in the nation, striving to be the premier program in the world by 2026.

But the people who helped him run the academy tell 13 Investigates it’s a different story.

“He basically made me like the face of a joke,” Ozzy Padron said.

Padron said when Baller, whose legal name is Nathan Kouamou, offered him a program manager job, Baller pitched the program as giving kids in lower income families the chance to play soccer after school at a low cost.

“I used to be one of those kids. My mom couldn’t pay for me to go to soccer, so I was excited to do this for the community,” he said.

Padron said he signed a contract with Baller Academy in September of 2021 for $36,000 a year.

Padron joined Rod Amour, who said he was brought on as the director of coaching at the beginning of the summer in 2021. Amour said he agreed to a $60,000, one-year contract.

“My job was to make sure that they had a good program, so I developed practice plans for everybody, all age groups. I felt they were good practice plans,” Amour said.

Padron provided us with a list of some of the schools he said participated in the program. It included both public and private.

The former employees told 13 Investigates they estimated there were several hundred students involved in 2021. The cost was $199 per athlete.

“They’re gonna have 20 practices, five games, five special events, access to professional coaches, the full uniform, admission to the 2021 tournament team at (the University of Houston), end of season awards, gifts from community partners and more,” Padron said as he read off a printout of a presentation he says was given to schools. “You know, it sounds like a lot.”

13 Investigates obtained an invoice from the Houston Independent School District showing the district paid Baller Academy almost $2,000 in 2021 for uniforms, awards and training for 33 students.

HISD’s Hamilton Middle School posted a photo on social media in September 2021 saying Baller went to the school to introduce the program and students were excited to sign up. Practices were set to start that fall.

“Things started to go a little off balance. Things started to go a little bad, like wrong, I would say about when we are supposed to start,” Amour said.

He said Baller wasn’t fulfilling what he’d promised, that kids didn’t have their uniforms and the teams had minimal equipment.

Padron said coaches stopped showing up because they weren’t getting paid, so he had to coach despite not having the experience for the job.

“I never played soccer. I played like my freshman year of high school,” Padron said. “I was out there doing my best, you know, kicking in a straight line that way and come back and we can make it work.”

Padron said the games scheduled for Saturdays weren’t happening.

The players and their families would show up to the field to find a locked gate and an empty field and Padron said he started hearing their frustrations.

Padron shared emails with us from families, saying “this experience has been bad in so many ways,” and it is “a total waste of time and money and a horrible experience.”

Another email said, “I am writing today as I have been completely disappointed and frustrated with this program.”

And another said, “Please respond with how you intend to make this right.”

Padron and Amour both said they tried to keep Baller Academy afloat, while pushing Baller to do what he promised, but they said nothing changed.

“This isn’t looking good for my reputation, you know, so it’s time for me to kind of ball out,” Amour said. “(Baller) sent me an email, termination email and saying that my check (is) in the mail. Still waiting on that check.”

Amour said he left Baller Academy in October 2021. Padron said he left in January 2022.

Both men tell 13 Investigates Baller owed them thousands of dollars in backpay.

Amour filed a lawsuit against Baller and was awarded more than $21,000, which wasn’t even all he was owed, according to him.

Padron and six other coaches also tried to file suit but say the court couldn’t serve their former boss with the suit. County records examined by 13 Investigates show the suit was eventually dropped without prejudice meaning it could be filed again if they serve him.

“We couldn’t find him. We sent constables out three times to four different locations and they couldn’t find him,” Padron said.

Amour said he hasn’t been able to find Baller either to collect the money court records say he’s owed.

RELATED: 13 Investigates Uvalde families’ claims of ‘betrayal’ by Houston man

We’ve been looking for Baller ourselves since January after families of Uvalde victims told 13 Investigates he collected donations for a benefit concert that never happened.

We’ve tried to call Baller, but several phone numbers we have for him were disconnected. At one point, he blocked our team that worked on the story on social media.

He did unblock us in early June after we messaged one of his family members asking if they had heard from him. We said we had been trying to get in touch with him, and asked if we could meet.

In social media direct messages, Baller re-emphasized a message from months ago telling us to direct our questions to his Baller Academy email address.

When we sent him screenshots of the four previous emails that went unanswered, asking if he ever received them, but he never responded.

We went to numerous addresses associated with Baller hoping to find him but came up short.

13 Investigates found out that Baller was appointed by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner to the city’s Amateur Sports Park LGC Board in 2019 and was reappointed in February 2022.

The mayor’s office told us the mayor can remove someone from a board position, but they have not been contacted by any authority or legal representative to make a claim against Baller.

13 Investigates hoped to go to one of the board’s meetings and catch up with Baller, but a representative on the board told us over the four and a half years Baller has been part of it, he’s gone to only one meeting.

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