by Irvin Muchnick
Yesterday, at http://concussioninc.net/?p=10163 and http://concussioninc.net/?p=10165, I tried to waste as little bandwidth as possible burying the simply awful report by the Government Accountability Office — whose bureaucrats, it turns out, have spent the last two years wearing rose-colored goggles while the historical and ongoing scandal of sexual abuse in USA Swimming unspooled.
Former Congressman George Miller, the liberal lion of the San Francisco suburbs’ North Bay, who requested the report, has a bridge named for him over the delta strait between Martinez and Benicia. That is entirely appropriate in light of his performance on one of the supposed causes of the last of his 20 terms in the House of Representatives. Comfortably ensconced in revolving-door, double-dipping retirement, Miller has left activists on this issue high and dry.
Miller’s senescent sinecure — senior education adviser for Cengage Learning — is straight out of the book This Town, Mark Leibovich’s account of Beltway self-service and hypocrisy. Miller arranged for the job through Robert Bennett, the Washington superlawyer who specializes in brokering lobbying gigs for ex-public servants. Presumably, we should all be grateful to Miller for the fact that Cengage doesn’t literally have an office on K Street.
Thanks to the congressman’s weak investigations and follow-through, greased by USA Swimming and U.S. Olympic Committee lobbyists, the American public, who remain largely ignorant of the magnitude of the scandal, got bromides in lieu of steps to help bring to account the leadership in swimming. That leadership, starting with million-dollar chief executive Chuck Wielgus, has enabled, covered up for, and lied to courts about the worst global ring of authority-figure child molesters outside the Catholic Church.
(Cengage Learning’s PR person forwarded our several queries to Miller. He didn’t respond.)
In May 2013, Rick Curl, owner of one of the country’s largest swimming clubs, was sentenced to seven years in Maryland prison for his years-long statutory rapes of his swimmer Kelley Davies, beginning in the 1980s when she was 13. Curl had paid $150,000 in hush money to the Davies family, been dismissed quietly by the University of Maryland, and even spent four years in Australia — Down Under the radar.
In 2010, former Olympic gold medalist David Berkoff — who would become a vice president of USA Swimming, where he executed more flip turns on the abuse problem than a Mexican jumping bean — emailed an activist:
“Denying knowledge of Rick Curl, Mitch Ivey and others banging their swimmers! It’s a flat out lie. They knew about it because we (coaches and athletes) were all talking about it in the late 1980′s and early 1990′s. I was told by several of Mitch Ivey’s swimmers that he was sleeping with Lisa Dorman in 1988. I heard the whole Suzette Moran story from Pablo Morales over a handful of beers and nearly threw up. I was told Rick Curl was molesting Kelly Davies for years starting when she was 12 by some of the Texas guys. That was the entire reason I formed the abuse subcommittee. I was sick and tired of this crap. No one was standing up. No one was willing to take on these perverts.”
On the Montgomery County Courthouse steps, where she testified at Curl’s sentencing hearing, his victim, now named Kelley Currin, called for Congressional intervention. The Washington Post concurred. And on June 13, 2013, Miller wrote to the comptroller general of the GAO: “Recent reports about the abuse of student athletes participating in public and private swim clubs have raised a number of new concerns about whether we have adequate laws and policies in place to prevent and address such abuse. Accordingly, I write today to supplement my July 2012 request to include information about the prevalence of abuse among student athletes and the manner in which such abuse cases are reported, investigated and resolved.”
There followed 16 months of swimming and Olympic establishment spin, accompanied by complete silence by Miller even as his minority party staff investigators at the House Committee on Education and the Workforce were handed oodles of information on covered-up abuse cases, on lies by USA Swimming executives and board members, and on the organization’s offshore reinsurance scam, the Barbados-based “United States” Sports Insurance Co.
If he would deign to speak with us, I’m guessing Miller would blame the inaction on the Republican majority leadership. But as ranking committee minority member — and as his staff privately hyped to us — Miller always had the option of holding unilateral field hearings even if he couldn’t get approval for conventional public hearings. In addition, in the spring of 2014, he could have uttered a handful of strategic words in support of the women’s groups and victims who organized the petition campaign that blocked cover-up director and perjury king Wielgus’s scheduled induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. If anything, as a retiring congressman, Miller faced no electoral downside.
What intervened was what I call “Child Abuse Inc.”: the network of ersatz nonprofit do-gooders who exploit sex crime outrage for consulting contracts. While Miller was saying just enough to put himself over as a concerned grandfather, but not enough to put swimming’s crimes on the regular news map, the sport’s moguls were using hundreds of thousands of dollars of dues money from USA Swimming’s mostly oblivious 400,000 members to launch a public relations counteroffensive.
The bulwark of this effort was the whitewash “independent review” of swimming’s “Safe Sport” program, which was issued in January 2014 by an opportunist named Victor Vieth of the Gundersen Health System’s Child Protection Training Center. Internal USA Swimming documents show that Vieth was paid upwards of $100,000 in return for a report that said the Wielgus gang and their Bryan Cave law firm mafiosi were doing just swell with Safe Sport. Though, of course, there’s always room for improvement!
Gundersen Health System is now first in line for long-term millions to work with the Olympic Committee’s newly announced “National Center for Safe Sport.”
“Looking at the scandal and all the charges involved,” a leading women’s activist told me, “I can see how sexual abuse is so low on the list of priorities. There’s no serious money in it for anyone.”
Well, there’s some for some.
In his final profile in caution last October, Miller released an exchange of letters with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in which he urged full investigation of “USA Swimming’s handling of both past and present cases of child sexual abuse.” Miller’s letter contained, generously, one percent of what he could have documented. He also allowed the FBI’s gobbledygook response to serve as the last word. These days USA Swimming books an FBI agent to speak on safe sport panels warning about the boogeyman and pedophiles in our midst.
The truth is that a number of FBI offices have been and still are investigating USA Swimming. The bureau’s Campbell office, near San Jose, subpoenaed thousands of pages of discovery documents in civil lawsuits by abuse victims against the organization. USA Swimming suppressed the docs for years, absorbing tens of thousands of dollars in taxicab-scale sanctions by lower courts, before the California Supreme Court ordered it to cough them up.
The fight against the “Olympic brand,” at once omnipotent and treacly, is a long, hard slog, and it continues. Shortly I will be appealing in federal court the decision by the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services not to release the visa and green card records of former Irish national swim team coach — and documented serial rapist — George Gibney, who has been hiding out in this country since 1995. The revival of the Gibney story, led by an Irish legislator who is fighting anew to get Gibney extradited and prosecuted, is big over there but hasn’t rated so much as a mention by any American journalist besides myself.
It’s almost needless to add that Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Miller’s designated successor for monitoring the bunch of nothing that came out of the GAO, hasn’t heeded her Irish counterpart’s plea to help bring Gibney to justice.
Capitol Hill self-promoter Miller isn’t responsible for the problem, and as he cashes his Cengage paycheck and Congressional pension, he no doubt rationalizes that he has done more than most about it. But the people who really exposed themselves in this fight — especially the dozens, scores or hundreds of victims and their families — approached him in the expectation he would facilitate action, not personify passivity.
Now, in 46 pages of a Government Accountability Office report, they are effectively being told to take a flying leap off the George Miller Bridge.