Current headlines surrounding the Olympic movement involve its decision to press on with the reset Summer Games this year in Tokyo, despite a still untamed global pandemic, as well as discussion of whether nations or corporations should boycott the 2024 Winter Games in Beijing, to sanction or at least focus attention on the Chinese government’s ethnic cleansing of its Uighur minority.
But lurking beneath the main storylines, in this country, are legal landmines now being navigated by the U.S. Olympic Committee and its associated national sport governing bodies: hundreds of civil lawsuits by underage victims of coach sexual abuse, plus at least one federal grand jury investigation — targeting USA Swimming — for insurance fraud, asset hiding, and abuse cover-ups.
The general public is steeped in the scandals of USA Gymnastics as that group teeters on bankruptcy, defending an avalanche of claims triggered by the revelations of the serial molestations of its now imprisoned doctor, Larry Nassar. In February, former gymnastics coach John Geddert, who like Nassar was based in Michigan, committed suicide before his own arraignment on 24 counts of abuse.
The tendency is to forget the many other youth-serving organizations under the Olympic umbrella also in the sights of the legal system, and not to take account of where these collective scenarios seem headed. In a ruling earlier this month with major implications for all of them, the California Supreme Court held that USA Taekwondo — not just the criminally convicted predator coach Marc Gitelman — was liable under the principle of “duty of care” in the case of Yasmin Brown, Kendra Gatt, and Brianna Bordon. Four years ago these plaintiffs won $60 million in a lawsuit against Gitelman. The Supreme Court’s clarification of the law means that they and other abuse survivors can proceed to go after the deeper pockets of the national sport governing body. (The court did exclude from liability the U.S. Olympic Committee itself.)
In a 2018 article for Beyond Chron, https://beyondchron.org/taekwondo-sexual-abuse-takes-olympic-sports-bodies-human-trafficking-class-action/, I wrote that another USA Taekwondo mass action, targeting the abuses of taekwondoin brother athletes and coaches Steven Lopez and Jean Lopez, might open the door to broader theories of human trafficking and federal racketeering violations.
Swimming is the sport whose high crimes I know best and have reported on the longest — for nearly a decade now. The Wall Street Journal, the Orange County Register, and other newspapers have reported on the grand jury investigation in the Southern District of New York against USA Swimming, whose machinations have included a scam reinsurance subsidiary, “the United States Sports Insurance Company,” that was headquartered on the Caribbean island of Barbados.
However, until my long-form piece last month on the front page of the Colorado Springs Gazette, https://gazette.com/news/podcasts-stir-new-sex-abuse-allegations-against-former-irish-olympic-swim-coach-in-u-s/article_cb36afe6-7875-11eb-91dd-67e902c483a7.html, no major outlet here had reported that an offshoot of the grand jury investigation is a probe by the Justice Department’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section of quasi-fugitive former Irish Olympic swimming coach George Gibney. I call Gibney the most notorious at-large sex criminal in sports history. Last year he was the subject of a podcast documentary series, produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation, that has garnered more than two million listens.
Still missing from almost all coverage, in all countries and across the board, is the gross internationalization of youth sports coach abuse cover-ups. Gibney fled Ireland after a nepotistic 1994 Irish Supreme Court ruling quashed his 27-count indictment on vague statute of limitations grounds.
My 2015-2017 Freedom of Information Act case against the Department of Homeland Security for material from Gibney’s alien file, along with a breakthrough piece of reporting in the BBC podcast, exposed that the American Swimming Coaches Association, a professional trade group, almost certainly helped engineer the diversity lottery visa that brought Gibney to the U.S. in 1995. The brief resumption of his coaching career, in Colorado, was ended by a new allegation of sexual misconduct there. Before even becoming an American resident alien, in 1991, he is credibly and without refutation accused of raping and impregnating a 17-year-old Irish swimmer on a training trip to Tampa.
In 2010, likely trying to inoculate himself from serial campaigns to extradite him to Ireland for a renewal of criminal charges, Gibney applied for U.S. citizenship and was denied, after illegally withholding from the application requested information regarding his past arrest and indictment in his native country. Yet a convoluted advisory letter by Immigration and Customs Enforcement held that he was still not “removable” because he had never been convicted. At 72, Gibney is playing out the string in Altamonte Springs, Florida, like some retired Nazi concentration camp guard.
And Gibney is only one of many bad actors in the swimming coach community who have crossed national borders with impunity. Simon “Danny” Chocron has been back coaching in his native Venezuela since just a few years after he jumped bail following a confession of his sexual abuse of swimmers, in 2001, at the Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida. Accused molester Scott Volkers jumped from Australia to Brazil and the U.S. American coaches Paul Bergen and Mitch Ivey found refuge in Canada, and Canadian Cecil Russell (an accessory to murder, no less) found refuge here.
Alex Pussieldi, a human trafficker and Peeping Tom, went from Brazil to the U.S. and back.
Also reportedly in Brazil these days is the Pacific Northwest’s Sean Hutchison, who for years groomed and predated on gold medal swimmer Ariana Kukors. In the course of Kukors’ litigation, her San Jose-based attorney B. Robert Allard forced the resignation of the founding director of USA Swimming’s “safe sport” department, Susan Woessner, when he exposed that Hutchison also had had a sexual relationship with her.
Like George Gibney, a coach who was finally banned for good by USA Swimming, Dustin Perry, stayed gainfully employed in the industry with the help of the American Swimming Coaches Association. In 2003-04, while serving an 18-month suspension for abuses at his program in Oklahoma, Perry simply took his talents to Mexico, under ASCA Hall of Fame coach Jack Simon.
On your marks … get set … go. Furiously backstroking away from its responsibilities to do more than profiteer off flag-waving spectacles, and deploying the finest in Washington lobbying, slick public relations, and martial arts tactics mixing in sophisticated legal gymnastics, the obscenely overpaid apparatchiks of the Olympic movement so far have skated accountability for a generation of systematic rapes of girls and boys. But a reckoning may be at hand.
Irvin Muchnick blogs at http://ConcussionInc.net. The “ultimate historical edition” of his 2009 book, Chris & Nancy: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death, will be published next month by ECW Press.Filed under: National Politics