Two Stages of Complaints About Swim Coach Alex Pussieldi Evident in Records Released by City of Fort Lauderdale

Published March 8th, 2014, Uncategorized

by Irvin Muchnick and Tim Joyce

 

On Saturday morning, Fort Lauderdale assistant city attorney Cole Copertino emailed Concussion Inc. 16 pages of documents in response to our request for public records relating to the February 2004 Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Complex physical altercation between coach Alex Pussieldi and a Mexican swimmer — one of the many foreign nationals he recruited, and often housed. We have been reporting on USA Swimming’s decade-long cover-up of this incident and associated scandals.

Our intention is to upload some or all of these public documents in the future, after we have had a fuller opportunity to talk with the principals. Below, we summarize the material in the new documents.

According to Fort Lauderdale official Copertino, the city might release additional documents. There is a a search under way of relevant records in the Fort Lauderdale police archives; if any are located, city lawyers then will review them to determine if the city should claim exemptions on public disclosure.

Still to be located is the “packet” leaked to Fort Lauderdale city commissioners in 2007 and later in the year reported by the weekly New Times. Copertino did not respond to our reiterated request for clarification of the city’s claim that no such records could be found, or whether a further explanation would be offered.

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The new documents make clear that complaints about Alex Pussieldi preceded the February 2004 incident. Local sources fill in some of the spaces and go further than the documents. According to one swimming community figure, who was at the pool when Pussieldi allegedly struck and choked the Mexican swimmer, “An atmosphere of ‘sex, lies, and videotape’ had been in the air for several months at the Fort Lauderdale Swim Team. Many people were talking about this swimmer’s complaints that Pussieldi had secretly videotaped him in the bathroom.”

Some of the same themes surround an incident in the fall of 2003, when the team traveled to Orlando for a meet. The new documents cover city officials’ unhappiness over whether the program, which used a municipal facility, was being properly controlled and managed by the head coach, Jack Nelson.

Again, our sources had additional details. In the Orlando incident, videos circulated (either on computers or via the mobile devices and social media of that time) of a teenage girl swimmer performing fellatio on two teen boy swimmers (one of them a national champion). This was on a night when Pussieldi was the assistant coach on duty with chaperoning responsibility.

In an October 15 letter to Ernest Burkeen of the Parks and Recreation Department, Jack Nelson wrote in part: “We plan to ask the three athletes who were most directly involved to write an essay on what they feel their responsibility is on a trip to represent themselves, their team and City of Fort Lauderdale in a dignified and morally upstanding manner. Each of these three athletes has surely had a lot of mental pain over this incident and we didn’t feel that further negative punishment was required. I hope you agree.”

Stu Marvin, the aquatic complex manager, wrote in an email, “… I think we need to do more.”

Immediately after the Friday, February 13, 2004, incident, the files show further correspondence, including a letter and emails by an adult, or “masters,” swimmer, who had been with the team for ten years. This swimmer wrote on February 15:

 

“I need to voice my outrage at the alleged assault…. I understand that Coach Alex physically abused a swimmer on the pool deck and continued to further assault the boy in the locker room. I understand the Fort Lauderdale police were called and the incident reported.

I was at the pool after the incident. I went to the Fort Lauderdale Swim Team office to voice my concern [and was informed later in the afternoon] that the coach was on administrative leave until Coach Jack Nelson returned  to investigate the incident.

On Saturday morning, the following day, I was shocked to know that coach Alex was on the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Center pool deck coaching. He then proceeded to the Plantation AquaticCenter where he was seen coaching the children….

We cannot tolerate coaches physically abusing swimmers….”

 

The next week, as written complaints mounted, aquatic complex manager Marvin wrote to complainants and to his boss, Burkeen, that the coach in question had resigned. City officials explained to complainants that the team coaches were not city employees, and added that Nelson was promising to retire at the end of the year – a move that would allow a restructuring of the swim team and its oversight. A city commissioner told the author of the February 15 complaint letter that she was requesting “an investigation by the city manager.”

It is the opinion of these writers that, if a city manager’s investigation followed, the documents generated by it are public records. We also speculate that those documents would become part of the infamous, and currently missing, 2007 “packet” that was leaked to the city commission.

Complete links to Concussion Inc.’s Pussieldi investigation are at http://concussioninc.net/?p=8652.