by Irvin Muchnick and Tim Joyce
EXCLUSIVE: Travis Tygart, Head of Olympic Anti-Doping Agency, Investigated Sexual Abuse Cases For USA Swimming
Through his spokesperson on Wednesday, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) chief Travis Tygart refused to answer our general questions about his past role as an in-house investigator of sexual abuse complaints at USA Swimming.
On Thursday, USADA senior communications manager Annie Skinner did not respond at all to email and voice messages asking Tygart for comment on our specific information about how he came to be the USA Swimming lawyer coordinating the investigation of a Venezuelan coach at Tygarts old school in Florida.
Also: Why did the coachs subsequent lifetime ban remain a secret for more than eight years? Why does he apparently continue to coach, to this day, back in his native country?
We pieced together the chronology of Simon Daniel Danny Chocron now 40 years old and enduringly, defiantly visible at his website, http://dannychocron.com through contemporary news accounts, Jacksonville sheriff and Duval County court records, and USA Swimming sources.
In several respects, the Chocron story parallels that of Brazilian Alex Pussieldi. Concussion Inc.s extensive coverage of the decade-plus Pussieldi cover-up is collected in headline links at http://concussioninc.net/?p=8652.
At the time of the Chocron scandal, Travis Tygart was more than a decade away from his emergence as the media hero who, once and for all, exposed Lance Armstrongs abuse of performance-enhancing drugs. Back in 2001, Tygart was an attorney for USA Swimmings main law firm, Holme Roberts & Owen of Denver (now Bryan Cave). The organizations internal documents show that Tygart was the firm person assigned to help coordinate the National Board of Review hearing of the Chocron case.
Coincidentally, Chocrons crimes occurred while he was an assistant coach for the Bolles Sharks swim club, which operated out of Bolles School in Jacksonville. Tygart himself is a Bolles alumnus. Another of our unanswered questions to Tygart is whether he considered recusing himself from the Chocron investigation or whether, conversely, his association with and knowledge of Bolles was regarded as a special asset to the investigation.
Danny Chocron, a graduate of Florida State University, was a champion open water swimmer. He joined the staff of the Bolles Sharks in July 2000, at age 26, and lasted eight months before his arrest on March 2, 2001, on two counts of lewd and lascivious battery against a minor.
The victim was a 15-year-old male swimmer. He told police that Chocron took him to his apartment, played pornographic videos, masturbated in front of the victim, and invited the boy to do the same for him. In addition, they engaged in oral sex. Chocron signed a full confession.
The next week, another victim, a 17-year-old girl, came forward. The previous summer, Chocron had taken her, too, to his apartment, where they had vaginal intercourse and oral sex on three occasions.
By late March, the Duval County state attorney had assembled 14 felony counts against Chocron.
On March 27, Chocron jumped his $250,000 bail by failing to show for a court appearance. Swimming insiders say he would be arrested later at a swim meet in Spain according to some accounts, on the pool deck and almost literally at the starting block of a race. But he fled again, making his way to Venezuela. Unlike Spain, Venezuela does not have an extradition treaty with the U.S.
At the time of the arrest, the general chair of Florida Swimming, Jim Kelly, gave the Associated Press a no-comment. Kelly later reported by email to USA Swimming CEO Chuck Wielgus: I told them I hadnt heard anything about it, which was true at the time.
Three months ago, the International Swimming Hall of Fame and USA Swimming jointly announced that Wielguss Hall induction as a builder of the sport was being withdrawn. This followed a petition by lead signatory Diana Nyad and the Womens Sports Foundation, which accurately accused Wielgus of directing cover-ups and committing perjury in statements to courts in civil lawsuits by victims. In the wake of the successful petition — and unbeknownest to consumers of major media — there are accelerating federal investigations of swimming’s insurance operations and abuse cover-ups.
In June 2001, an attorney representing families at the Bolles School sent a packet of news articles about Chocrons arrest to Dale Neuburger, a vice president of USA Swimming who also served on the board of FINA, the international governing body. Neuburger forwarded the information to Richard Young, swimmings chief counsel and Tygarts boss, and to Cornel Marculesce, the Swiss-based executive director of FINA.
On October 4, 2001, the National Board of Review heard the case against the absent Chocron. Four days later the board issued the order banning him.
But USA Swimming didnt begin publishing its banned list until 2010. (Then, the list numbered 36; now, it is has moved past 100.) In the interim, how did the Colorado Springs-based national sport governing body alert the communities in two countries of Chocrons sex crimes and whereabouts? Travis Tygart, who was in a position to help do something about that at the time, wont say.
And what does Tygart think about a molester and fugitive from justice continuing to coach — that it doesnt matter because its happening in another country? Tygart wont answer that one either.