BURLINGTON (WTVD) -- The Alamance County Sheriff's Office and federal investigators are looking into how an ineligible athlete was enrolled at Eastern Alamance High School and whether it's related to human trafficking.
The sheriff said at least 22 students could be involved. Only two in Robeson County have been accounted for.
At a news conference Tuesday morning, Sheriff Terry Johnson said Aris Lamont Hines, 37, and Brandi Kauilani Thomason, 35, both of Mebane, are charged with felony common law obstruction of justice and obtaining property by false pretense.
Johnson predicted an investigation that could last for six months to a year into what he called a bigger human trafficking ring, and he asked for the public's help locating other juveniles in the case who are now missing.
The investigation began earlier this month when the North Carolina High School Athletic Association stripped Eastern Alamance's football and basketball teams of a combined 28 wins and made it forfeit $19,000 in playoff gate receipts.
Sheriff Johnson said investigators believe Hines and Thomason fraudulently conspired to enroll a young man who is a native of Nigeria into the school system to play two sports.
Johnson said the young man got himself away from Hines and was living with another family.
The sheriff alleged Hines waited until after the football season was over and then threatened the coach with exposing him for using an ineligible player. Hines then went to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association "not realizing it would backfire on him," said Johnson.
"While we are certainly disappointed at the athletic and funding losses at Eastern, we appreciate the Sheriff's Office initiating this investigation which exonerates the administration and athletic department from any purposeful wrongdoing," said Alamance Burlington School System Superintendent Dr. William Harrison.
Questioned about the allegations at his home Tuesday, Hines said the young man "was taken from us" by a family introduced by the football coach when he moved to Orange County from Alamance and the student wanted to stay where he was.
"It's all about football, because they love their football at East Alamance. We had a kid, and this kid became a big football star, so somebody thinks they're gonna get a 'Blind Side.' But we don't do that for sports. We do that to help a kid get a good education," said Hines.
Hines denied using falsified documents to get the student into school.
"Didn't falsify no documents. No documents, no nothing. And this kid, he knows that as well. He knows the truth. God knows the truth. So the truth will come out," he claimed.
As to why he was associated with young people from other countries?
"My mother was a preacher, she used to take care of not just international kids, any kids that were struggling, trying to get on the right page," Hines said. "When my mother passed three years ago I adopted the same thing, and I've been in it a long time."
Hines said he has done nothing wrong.
"You tell me it's a crime for helping people, helping disadvantaged kids? Because we opened up our house as a safe haven for kids? Is something wrong with that?" he asked.
Sheriff Johnson said investigators are also looking for three girls that Hines and Thomason allegedly also tried to enroll in the Alamance Burlington School System but were unsuccessful. The whereabouts of the girls is unknown, and Johnson said there are concerns the case possibly involves sex trafficking.
"This causes me grave concern," said Johnson. "Help us locate the three young women or any other child these two individuals have been involved with."
Investigators say Hines lived with as many as 5 teenagers inside a home in Mebane. The house was vacant when our crews went to the house Tuesday afternoon. Neighbors say nothing appeared suspicious.
When asked for descriptions of the girls, Johnson said he didn't have much to go on.
"One is from the Dominican Republic, heavyset, approximately 14 to 15 years old. That's the only description I could get from the school system," he said.
When asked about the girls by ABC11, Hines said "No, never no women in it."
Johnson also said he got a call Tuesday morning from Robeson County District Attorney Luther Johnson Britt about Hines. Johnson said Britt has been investigating Hines - who is believed to be from Maxton in Robeson County - after he was found living with 18 young men in one house. Hines allegedly enrolled them in local schools and even registered them to vote. Johnson said the whereabouts of some of those young men is also unknown.
The FBI, State Department, and the SBI have now joined the investigation with local authorities.
"Due to the involvement of the State Department, I have tasked our investigators with following all leads and continuing to interview persons who may have knowledge of this case. These arrests may be the tip of an iceberg that we intend to break," said the sheriff.
Bond for both Hines and Thomason were set at $3 million Monday, but a judge later reduced it to just $2,000. Both Hines and Thomason had bonded out as of Tuesday morning.