by Irvin Muchnick and Tim Joyce
Last Friday we told you that James Pantera, the con man who was approved to start a USA Swimming club in San Diego despite the organization’s vaunted system of “background checks,” finally got banned — nine months after whistleblower ex-vice president Mike Saltzstein presented the facts about Pantera to top swimming officials in Colorado Springs.
The rest of the story gets even uglier. Internal emails by USA Swimming board members show that, while the Southern California swimming community continued to be exposed to this criminal, the board spent its energy mocking Saltzstein’s efforts and questioning his motives.
On March 1, Saltzstein emailed a 121-page file of information on Pantera to USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus, assistant executive director Mike Unger, safe sport director Susan Woessner, board president Bruce Stratton, and administration vice president Mary Jo Swalley. This supplemented the 103-page Pantera dossier that Saltzstein transmitted on February 21.
At the time, we uploaded the files, which can still be viewed at http://muchnick.net/panteradossier.pdf and http://muchnick.net/panteravolume2.pdf. Saltzstein documented Pantera’s many aliases, his federal prison term for defrauding the government, and the fact that all of this is reported in a front-page newspaper article, which in turn can be read via the top page of a simple Google search.
Now, here’s how USA Swimming president Stratton reacted on March 1, in an email to Unger and Woessner that was mistakenly cc’d to Saltzstein:
“Isn’t life grand. Don’t you have to wonder what his agenda really is.”
That was at 6:55 p.m. Twenty-seven minutes later, at 7:22, Stratton emailed again:
“Bruce Stratton would like to recall the message, ‘attached correspondence’.”
But five minutes earlier, at 7:17, Swalley already had responded:
“Resenting the whole thing. Why do any of us need the ‘bio’ for everyone in a UCSD program?”
It is possible that Swalley meant to type “resending” rather than “resenting.” But any doubt that Swalley was joining Stratton in mocking Saltzstein, rather than seriously pondering the implications of his messages, was dispelled by Swalley’s follow-up one minute later, at 7:18:
“He was losing space to Allard’s latest client in AZ v. Winslow.”
Swalley referred to Greg Winslow, who had just been fired as head swimming coach at the University of Utah after Concussion Inc. revealed that Winslow was under criminal investigation for having raped an underage swimmer on the Arizona State University campus, where he was also head coach of the Sun Devil Aquatics USA Swimming youth club. B. Robert Allard is the San Jose attorney who represents many victims of sexual abuse, and helped set in motion the pending civil lawsuit against Winslow and others by that victim, Whitney Lopus.
Chuck Wielgus, Mike Unger, Susan Woessner, Bruce Stratton, Mary Jo Swalley … these are the leaders of an organization now under long-overdue investigation by the United States Congress and the Government Accountability Office. The well-being of 400,000 young athletes, who participate in a program sanctioned by the U.S. Olympic Committee and enabled by the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, hangs in the balance.