by Irvin Muchnick and Tim Joyce
For the last three weeks, Concussion Inc. has been reporting on Alex Pussieldi, the Brazilian coach who built a swimming empire in South Florida, largely based on imported foreign swimmers – many of whom he housed – before mysteriously “retiring” last year. See complete links at http://concussioninc.net/?p=8652.
The series’ 16 posts to date include the facsimile of a redacted document from USA Swimming’s own 2004-05 investigation, containing unrefuted allegations that Pussieldi secretly videotaped boys in a bathroom. They also include information supplied to Fort Lauderdale city officials and police in 2007 about Pussieldi’s collection of videos of his own sex with underage boys.
But this new story, No. 17, is perhaps the most damaging to date to the credibility of USA Swimming’s “Safe Sport” program, which was initiated in 2010 following embarrassing media interviews of CEO Chuck Wielgus.
According to a Florida swimming parent, J.P. Cote — who also has worked as a volunteer assistant coach and meet marshal — he twice filed misconduct complaints against Pussieldi in the last 15 months, based on Cote’s and his wife Carolyn’s direct observations of Pussieldi’s inappropriate touching of young swimmers at a public event. In each instance, USA Swimming safe sport director Susan Woessner and safe sport coordinator Liz Hoendervoogt took no action on the complaints.
The Cotes said Hoendervoogt did try to assure them that USA Swimming was working behind the scenes to contain Pussieldi – for example, by cutting off funding from a program that helped underwrite his recruitment of foreign athletes.
“It’s all ‘CYA’ – cover your ass,” J.P. Cote told us. “Everything is about protecting the organization from lawsuits. Nothing is about protecting young athletes from predators.”
Cote is a former Canadian national team swimmer who barely missed his country’s Olympic team – finishing fourth at the 1988 Olympic Trials in the 400-meter individual medley. He and his wife (a registered nurse and mandatory sex crime reporter) and their swimmer-children moved to the Florida Keys, and most recently to the Gulf Coast area.
In November 2012, Cote was a volunteer assistant coach for the Florida Keys Swim Club at the Winter Championships in Plantation, Florida, where he saw Pussieldi openly and inappropriately stroking the backs, stomachs, and inner thighs of several male swimmers. Cote said Pussieldi stopped just short of the crotch lines of the athletes’ Speedo bikinis, and didn’t seem to care who noticed.
“Should I garrot him?” Cote recalls saying to his wife.
“No,” Carolyn said. “Just go to the police.”
Cote filed a report that day with the Plantation Police Department. Eventually, the file was closed without criminal charges because Cote did not know the names of any of the swimmers and the police were unable to locate an alleged victim to provide witness to alleged crimes.
Cote then filed a complaint with USA Swimming. Susan Woessner put him in direct contact with Liz Hoendervoogt. Phone conversations and emails ensued, but Cote’s complaint was dismissed for lack of evidence.
One of the many questions left unanswered by Cote’s account is whether Woessner and Hoendervoogt even bothered to call up USA Swimming’s own decade-old file on Pussieldi’s Peeping Tom video of and a physical attack on a Mexican swimmer a decade earlier. On that occasion, the complaint against Pussieldi was likewise dismissed, and the coach resigned from the Fort Lauderdale Swim Team and took a leave of absence from St. Thomas Aquinas High School. He soon resumed coaching, at the same St. Thomas Aquinas High — soon adding the Pine Crest School’s USA Swimming club, among other jobs, to his curriculum vitae.
Last summer the Pussieldi-owned Davie Nadadores “sort of came apart,” according to the incomplete reporting of SwimSwam.com (which called the coach “the great Alex Pussieldi”). Nova Southeastern University, which housed many of the Nadadores’ foreign swimmers, kicked the club out. In addition, Pussieldi was facing a suspension from Florida Swimming for his illegal use of non-local swimmers.
Following Cote’s complaint to USA Swimming, Cote received a letter from an attorney for Pussieldi, claiming that Cote had defamed him and demanding a cash settlement in lieu of a lawsuit. No such litigation was ever filed.
At that point, Cote filed a second complaint with USA Swimming, for retaliation by Pussieldi. “That was a full year ago,” Cote told us. “We’ve never heard back.”
Woessner and the entire USA Swimming staff have a stated policy of not responding to these reporters’ inquiries. But we will ask them for copies of the Cotes’ complaints against Pussieldi and for an explanation of what the organization has done about them. The Cotes said they have made it clear to USA Swimming that they waive any claim to protecting their own confidentiality.
Follow Concussion Inc. for continuing coverage of USA Swimming’s ten-year-old Alex Pussieldi scandal, which now is documented to include direct cover-ups during the “Safe Sport” era.