by Tim Joyce and Irvin Muchnick
USA Swimming allowed a prominent Florida coach to remain in high-profile coaching positions for nine years after the organization’s internal review of a 2004 accusation that he battered one of his swimmers also raised unrefuted allegations that he produced and maintained bathroom videotapes of underage foreign nationals who lived with him.
Concussion Inc.’s investigation found that Alex Pussieldi, who is in his late forties, retired from his final coaching job, in Davie, Florida, just last year. Pussieldi now is a prominent swimming community figure and media personality in his native Brazil.
While working as an assistant under International Swimming Hall of Fame coach Jack Nelson at the Fort Lauderdale Swim Team, starting in 1999, Pussieldi recruited a number of athletes from both Brazil and Mexico. One of the many significant aspects of this story is that open water swimming legend Diana Nyad has publicly accused Nelson himself of sexually molesting her in her youth.
Pussieldi resigned from the Fort Lauderdale club in 2004 in the midst of USA Swimming’s investigation of the incident in which a Mexican swimmer complained that Pussieldi punched and choked him at a practice. Though the swimmer’s name is a matter of public record, we are withholding it pending further efforts to reach him. According to a contemporaneous newspaper account, the swimmer was hospitalized in the alleged attack, and filed both a police report and a civil lawsuit.
Several years earlier, when the swimmer first arrived from Mexico, he had been part of a group who were housed by Pussieldi. Sources close to the USA Swimming investigation said the swimmer’s relationship with Pussieldi soured after the swimmer discovered that the coach was making secret bathroom videotapes of the boys living with him. According to the investigation, after catching Pussieldi suspiciously using a drill on the wall of the bathroom used exclusively by his swimmer-tenants, the swimmer came across a copy of one of the videos in Pussieldi’s bedroom.
The swimmer confronted team officials but was persuaded to drop the matter after one coach told the swimmer that he knew of previous similar reports of Pussieldi’s “unusual infatuation and physical attraction to boys.” The coach — likely Nelson, but that is not confirmed — added that Pussieldi was seeing a psychiatrist for help with the problem. The coach warned the swimmer that exposure of Pussieldi’s issue could ruin the club’s reputation.
At a later point, parents of the girlfriend of one of the swimmers secretly videotaped by Pussieldi — possibly a different swimmer — also confronted team officials. The parents were assured that Pussieldi “was getting help,” according to sources who knew of the USA Swimming investigator’s report and recommendations to the National Board of Review.
Findings of USA Swimming’s nearly decade-long handling of the Pussieldi matter behind closed doors is potentially explosive during this season of probes of Olympic sport governing bodies’ athlete protection systems. Congressman George Miller’s minority staff at the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, the Government Accountability Office, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are all gathering information and soliciting victims to share their stories in various ways.
USA Swimming, the most prominent target of these investigations, is in the midst of a six-figure public relations and lobbying effort to head them off. A recently commissioned “independent assessment” by child protection expert Victor Vieth praised the organization’s improvements with a Safe Sport program instituted following television news exposés in 2010.
The Pussieldi file, however, illustrates that private knowledge by USA Swimming of allegations of his child-endangering activities straddled the pre-2010 era and the post-2010 Safe Sport era. Pussieldi is not on USA Swimming’s published list of banned coaches, whose latest update brought it to 99 names.
The Pussieldi narrative proves one further fact highly damaging to USA Swimming: additional confirmation that CEO Chuck Wielgus and other officials have lied repeatedly, in public statements and in sworn statements to courts in civil lawsuits, about their longstanding awareness of the problem of secret videotaping by coaches of disrobed or disrobing swimmers in locker rooms and bathrooms.
In representations in an Indiana lawsuit by swimmer Brooke Talfinger over, among other abuses, this particular practice by her coach Brian Hindson (now imprisoned for child pornography), Wielgus said the secret videotaping issue wasn’t even “on the radar screen” before 2008. In truth, USA Swimming had been put on alert by the FBI during the late 1990s flight from justice by Pennsylvania coach John Trites, who secretly recorded his swimmers with a hidden locker room camera. The Alex Pussieldi case is yet another example of exactly the same phenomenon.
Pussieldi, who is in Sochi covering the Winter Olympics for a Brazilian news outlet, did not respond to an email and a Twitter message requesting comment for this story. USA Swimming has not replied to any message from these reporters in nearly two years.
After leaving the Fort Lauderdale Swim Team, Pussieldi owned and coached a club in Davie, Florida. His teams at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale won five state championships.
Concussion Inc. will have more shortly on this developing story.
Complete links to Concussion Inc.’s Pussieldi coverage, which began February 7, are at http://concussioninc.net/?p=8652.