In the months leading up to the Gulfshore Invitational, a newly rebranded local prep basketball tournament, organizer Alexander "Sandy" Getta made a grand pitch to potential participants.
ESPN and the marketers behind the year's biggest high school basketball game were getting involved. Several of the nation's premier programs would be in attendance. And the linchpin: a $10,000 contractual guarantee for airplane tickets.
"The contract really made me feel secure," said Kyle Lindsted, coach at Bel-Aire Sunrise (Kan.) Christian Academy near Wichita, one of 22 schools wooed by Getta. "I never doubted from that moment on."
A few weeks before the tournament's late December start, it collapsed. Getta pinned the demise on a major sponsor backing out.
But documents and interviews show the tournament's issues ran deeper, with Getta making promises and assurances that were either misleading or later shown false, costing schools from California to Canada to North Carolina tens of thousands of dollars. ESPN and its partners have never spoken with Getta. KemperLesnik, the marketing giant behind the McDonald's All-American Game, never agreed to become a partner. Getta never even started the required sanctioning process with state and national athletic bodies.
Now, some high school officials who signed up with the Gulfshore Invitational say they're looking into legal action against Getta, 30, a Barron Collier High School graduate and newcomer in the local basketball community.
"In my conversations with our lawyer, he said that this is a pretty clear cut case," said Ted Dunlap, athletic director at Junipero Serra High School, near Los Angeles. "The problem is whether there is money behind the promise."
The Gulfshore Invitational was Getta's ambitious first venture into tournament organizing.
After graduating from Barron Collier in 2001 and briefly attending college in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Getta remained in Canada for several years, working in real estate.
Getta returned to Southwest Florida following a falling out with a business partner in Canada. With his father, Burkhard, he set up The Getta Organization in October 2010 and Getta Capital in January 2011. (The Daily News couldn't decipher the type of work performed by each company. Neither has a website, and officials at the Vanderbilt Beach address listed in business records for both companies said Getta vacated the site two years ago.)
For the 2011-12 boys basketball season, Getta served as volunteer assistant coach at Golden Gate High School for Joe Consolino, who coached Getta at Barron Collier. Getta "did a really good job" in the position, Consolino said.
"I was willing to give an ex-player a shot," Consolino said earlier this month.
For 16 years, Consolino ran the Gulfshore Shootout, a local basketball tournament he started. But when sponsors started becoming difficult to find during the economic downturn, Consolino handed over the reins to his assistant.
So in winter 2012, Getta renamed the tournament and started marketing it nationally, seeking top-flight programs for an event comparable to Fort Myers' renowned City of Palms Classic.
In spring 2012, Getta had inundated coaches across the country with calls and emails.
He landed 22 schools, including four currently ranked in USA TODAY's top 25, with attractive promises: a $10,000 travel reimbursement, up to eight paid hotel rooms per team, free meals and a week of national exposure under Southwest Florida's "wonderful sunshine," according to copies of contracts obtained by the Daily News.
Athletic programs bought plane tickets, with many putting the charges on personal or school credit cards. Families made travel plans. On Lindsted's team of international players, parents from the Bahamas and Spain paid for flights to see their children in Southwest Florida.
But in early December, a few weeks before the start date, Getta said an anonymous sponsor that still hasn't been named fell through. By mid-December, two weeks before the Gulfshore Invitational's scheduled start, it was canceled.
Several programs still came to Naples and found games to play with the help of local basketball coaches. Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller High School coach Carl Kremer, whose team played four games in Southwest Florida, said he "couldn't be happier" about the competition and hospitality.
Yet Kremer estimated his program lost $20,000 to $25,000 on the deal. It virtually wiped out Lindsted's athletic program budget, which largely subsists on a $10,000 summer fundraiser.
Beyond the lost money, coaches said Getta made assurances the Daily News found baseless.
Several coaches said they were told the tournament had the required state and national sanctioning, but officials from the two sanctioning organizations said Getta never filed any paperwork with them. Penalties for participating in an unsanctioned tournament vary by state. In Florida, it's a mandatory minimum penalty of probation and at least a $100 fine.
As Getta pitched the tournament in the early stages, some coaches said they were told ESPN was linked to the event. But when contacted by the Daily News, officials at ESPN and the third-party they employ to televise prep sports, Paragon Marketing Group, had never heard of Getta.
"We never even evaluated the tournament to televise it," Paragon Marketing Group partner Rashid Ghazi said.
On at least two occasions, records show, Getta said he had partnered with Chicago-based KemperLesnik. Yet its CEO, Steve Skinner, said in an email last week the company "had discussions with (Getta) but never reached a final agreement or signed a contract."
At FGCU, officials also became concerned about Getta's involvement and potential NCAA rules violations.
In late August 2012, Getta joined FGCU's men's basketball staff as an unpaid volunteer. His responsibilities included scheduling, arranging travel and fundraising in Collier County, records show.
FGCU officials said they weren't aware of Getta's ties to the Gulfshore Invitational when he was brought on staff, later investigating when Getta was quoted in the media as the tournament's organizer.
Compliance officials prepared a report suggesting Getta could maintain both positions because he wouldn't be representing FGCU in his role overseeing the tournament. Eventually, Getta was asked to choose between the two positions, university officials said. He went with the Gulfshore Invitational.
The Daily News reached out to Getta multiple times for comment on this article, with no response. Calls and a text message to his cellphone, which was later disconnected, went unreturned. Emails to three known addresses weren't answered.
Getta also couldn't be found at a local address. At his last known residence, on Fountainhead Lane in Naples, neighbors didn't know where he'd moved.
After the tournament was canceled, Getta told the Daily News he tried to save the event, offering a $5,000 travel reimbursement.
"I thought it was real important for the kids and the tournament," Getta said in a Dec. 14 article. Nobody the Daily News spoke with received that payment.
Getta had a partner in organizing the tournament, local insurance agent Mike Horn Jr., but he declined to comment for this article, saying "I just kind of want to move on."
In interviews with coaches, Horn Jr. was described as responsible for planning the logistics of the tournament, while Getta handled money and promotion.
"I don't know if (Horn Jr.) was roped in or what, but he's actually been nice," Dunlap, the California athletic director, said. "But Getta, on the other hand, has not answered our repeated phone calls."
The tournament's demise has brought about a range of reactions about Getta.
Dunlap and Lindsted were animated about the need for the $10,000 to buoy their athletic programs. Chris Sparks, coach at participating school Wilbraham & Monson Academy in Massachusetts, said it was "hard to make a determination" about Getta's intentions. Consolino, the Golden Gate coach, said he's reserving judgment until he speaks with Getta.
Several school officials said their legal departments are reviewing the contracts for possible legal action.
Dunlap hopes there's money to be gotten, which there might be. Two of Getta's business deals in Canada alone totaled roughly $2 million, according to allnovascotia.com, a Halifax-based news site. Records also show Getta had been paying $6,000 per month in rent on his Fountainhead Lane home.
Getta has been in touch with Dunlap once this month — an early January email asking for a compensation request to be processed.
"We hope that on a contract like this," Dunlap said, "Getta is going to do the right thing."