Founder of embattled Poinciana college calls complaints ‘a kick in the face’

8 On Your Side

POINCIANA, Fla. (WFLA) – The now-former St. Sebastian Elite College football players who claim their college and football dreams were dashed by broken promises were “not right for the program,” according to the religious institution’s co-founders.

DeMarcus Lattier, who recruited several of the disgruntled student-athletes, said they were only focused on football.

“Football is one vessel,” Lattier said. “But really it’s about standards you want to teach young men.”

Several players who came from as far away as Michigan said they moved to the Tampa Bay area expecting to improve their football skills while getting college credit. But they said they were disappointed to find out there were less than 20 players on the team, and they had to share helmets for a season that lasted half of one game.

Dre Curate, the team’s former quarterback, said he paid tuition directly to Lattier but stopped after classmates told him the virtual classes were frozen early in the semester.

“Everything that [Coach Lattier] told us sounds really good,” Curate said. “It sounds legit. But in the long run, now we know.”

St. Sebastian Athletic Director Darric Wheelis said “no one broke any promises,” adding he felt betrayed by the former players.

“The fact they turned around and said we did not do what we promised them is a kick in the face,” Wheelis said. “We have busted our behinds to help these young men.”

Wheelis said the goal of SSEC is to help people of color get a college education.

“Twelve thousand dollars a semester and if we get accreditation, financial help will make it basically free,” Wheelis said. “The national average [for college] is $19,000.”

We reached out to Miami-based education law expert Shavon Jones for insight. She said one potential issue that is contrary to state consumer protection law involves the address listed with the state for St. Sebastian.

“You must have some sort of physical facilities if you’re going to operate a school in the State of Florida,” Jones said. “Religious, or otherwise. You have to have an actual office address.”

Records show St. Sebastian is located at the Poinciana Community Center, but the facility operations manager told 8 On Your Side the college “should not be using our address.”

“They are not renting any of our facilities,” Eldonia Gonzalez said.

Wheelis said he is working on establishing a physical address for SSEC.

“We’ve only been around [seven] months,” Wheelis said. “We are working 15 hours a day. I have not been paid for a year.”

Operating and growing a start-up college is difficult, according to Wheelis. But Jones said earning approval from the Florida Department of Education is not difficult.

“It is way too easy,” Jones said. “They have to do nothing but sign an affidavit that says they’re in compliance with the law.”

Regarding claims by instructors that they were not paid, Wheelis said “they have all been paid” within the last few weeks.

But Jennifer Gray, a South Carolina-based English instructor, said she has not received a check.

“To date, I have not received any money from the college,” Gray said. “I am waiting on a response from a few of my peers to see if they have received any money.”

Jones said disgruntled students do have the option to file a complaint with the Florida Attorney General’s Office that could possibly lead to a refund of their tuition. 

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