by Tim Joyce and Irvin Muchnick
In 2006, USA Swimming CEO Chuck Wielgus was told of an investigation of complaints of sexual misconduct against Chris Johnson, a coach in Tennessee. Despite this – and despite the well-publicized 2012 arrest of Johnson for sexual solicitation of a minor – Johnson still is not on swimming’s 100-strong list of banned coaches.
On May 17, 2012, Concussion Inc. broke the story of Johnson’s arrest. See “BREAKING: USA Swimming Youth Coach Sex Abuse Scandal Widens With New Cases in Tennessee and Pennsylvania,” http://concussioninc.net/?p=5657. (The link within our article, to a story in Nashville’s Tennessean, is now dead.) See also http://concussioninc.net/?p=5668.
On March 23, 2006, Clark Hammond of Southeastern Swimming, the Local Swim Committee covering Tennessee, sent a memo to Wielgus outlining the allegations against Chris Johnson, swimming sources told us. Hammond was acting on instructions of USA Swimming lawyer Wells O’Brien.
Hammond told Wielgus that several years earlier – in 2000 or 2001 – Johnson, former coach of the River Oak Swim Club, had sexually assaulted a minor female. Hammond’s memo named the minor swimmer of the club Johnson was coaching at the time, Pilot Aquatics, and said there was a contemporaneous police report. Hammond also forwarded hospital records of the 16-year-old girl’s visit to a local hospital emergency room.
The district attorney indicted Johnson, Hammond told Wielgus. However, when the case came to trial three years later, the charges were dropped because the victim did not want to go through the ordeal of testifying in court.
Hammond also said that he was advised that Johnson had lost his position with the Oakland High School swim team as a result of inappropriate behavior with female swimmers.
Hammond’s 2006 complaint was forwarded to USA Swimming’s National Board of Review. The investigation was conducted by a USA Swimming consultant at that time, Dirk Taitt, who also has done private investigative work for the National Football League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
As we chronicled last week, Taitt also was the USA Swimming investigator who reported in 2005 that coach Alex Pussieldi – who, like Chris Johnson, remains unbanned to this day – had been accused of producing secret bathroom videotapes of swimmers whom he recruited from Mexico and Brazil, and housed in South Florida. It is not known if Taitt was also told of allegations that Pussieldi kept videotapes of his own sex acts with underage boys, and it is not known if he reported those allegations to USA Swimming.
The allegations of both secret bathroom videotaping of swimmers and sex with minor boys would become part of a 2007 investigation by the Florida state’s attorney of Pussieldi and his former boss at the Fort Lauderdale Swim Team, International Swimming Hall of Famer Jack Nelson, whom open water swimming legend Diana Nyad has publicly accused of molesting her at age 14.
USA Swimming investigator Taitt did not return our phone call last week, to his number in Olathe, Kansas, asking him about the Pussieldi investigation. Today we called again for the purpose of asking Taitt about the findings of 2006 Chris Johnson investigation, but the number had been disconnected. We then left a message for Taitt through the security office of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. In a 2011 deposition in a civil lawsuit against USA Swimming by an abuse victim, Taitt said he was then a security representative for the Chiefs.
As Congressman George Miller and federal agencies investigate USA Swimming, the evidence mounts of post-2010, or “Safe Sport era,” cover-ups of abuse allegations against coaches, and of the organization’s chief executive’s own participation in those cover-ups.
P.S. Dirk Taitt called us Tuesday evening and offered boilerplate: “Two things. First, those cases are so long ago that I probably couldn’t tell one from the other. Second, any comment on investigative information would have to come from USA Swimming.”