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More victims of alleged North Coast sports scammers come forward

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The number of people claiming to be victims of an alleged scam targeting North Coast athletes and their parents has risen to 30, detectives said Monday.

More people have come forward since last week's arrest of Aaron Averbuck, 43, of Santa Rosa and the mother of his children, Tammy Fa'agata, 39, of Windsor.

Investigators now believe the thefts started as far back as five years ago and continued until last week. Victims may have lost tens of thousands of dollars, sheriff's Lt. Dennis O'Leary said.

Fa'agata, an assistant softball coach at Cardinal Newman High School, allegedly played a more significant role than initially thought, O'Leary said. One or two of the victims are parents of girls on her team at Cardinal Newman, O'Leary said.

"We're finding out that she was not just assisting him (Averbuck)," O'Leary said. "She was actually involved in the same type of behavior he was."

He would not elaborate on Fa'agata's alleged role, citing the ongoing investigation.

Averbuck, who also goes by the name Komodo Tamakoa, has been described as a charming con man who approached people in restaurants and at ball games, convincing them to give him money for coaching sessions and key NFL and NASCAR events.

He also promised discounts on television sets, phones and other home electronics at Best Buy.

Detectives said he never delivered on any of it.

Fa'agata was initially suspected of posing as a ticket-selling agent on the phone and cashing victims' checks.

Averbuck and Fa'agata were arrested May 8. Averbuck was charged with burglary and grand theft. Fa'agata was charged with grand theft.

Both have since been released on bail. Fa'agata appeared in court Monday for her arraignment but Averbuck was unable to attend because of an undisclosed medical emergency.

Outside court, Fa'agata's lawyer said his client was "taken aback" by her arrest on the Cardinal Newman campus and denies any involvement.

Fa'agata stepped down from coaching responsibilities to avoid distracting students and parents at the end of the season, said Evan Zelig, her attorney.

"I'm not sure how they are connecting her to this," Zelig said in the hallway. "We need to know a lot more."

Both defendants will return to court May 24.

By then, the two may face additional charges. A "wide array" of victims has come forward, including parents, professionals and other people not associated with Cardinal Newman, O'Leary said.

But at least one of the new victims was a Cardinal Newman parent, Principal Graham Rutherford said. Another Cardinal Newman parent reported that Averbuck had returned money that was owed, Rutherford said.

The number of alleged victims, which has more than doubled since the arrests were disclosed last week, is expected to grow, O'Leary said.

"Now that they know they're not the only ones, they feel compelled to tell their stories, too," O'Leary said. "I have a feeling the numbers are going to keep growing."

Fa'agata was a star softball player at Rancho Cotate, named as Redwood Empire player of the year and a three-time All-North Bay League player. She played at several community colleges, including Santa Rosa Junior College, and finished playing at Sonoma State University.

She was hired at Cardinal Newman in early March when the softball season began, Rutherford said.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com.

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