by Irvin Muchnick
In the course of what American Swimming Coaches Association sources are calling a panicked reaction to the account of a former employee, Sarah Ehekircher, that he sexually harassed her in 2003-04, ASCA executive director John Leonard issued a brand-new version of the organization’s role in matters pertaining to the presence in the United States of former Irish Olympic swim coach George Gibney.
It is an understatement to say that Leonard’s sudden additions to the public record, following years of stonewalling questions on all things Gibney, raise far more questions than they answer. Here we’ll run down some of the key questions.
Before getting to them, it has to be emphasized that the topic of George Gibney was only indirectly related to the story Leonard pushed two days ago to the website SwimVortex. A forensics investigator might say that Leonard’s newly aggressive Gibney line was orthogonal to the narrative at hand. For the narrative at hand concerned Ehekircher’s anecdotes of Leonard’s creepy (at minimum) behavior toward her, in the wake of Sarah’s outing of Scott MacFarland as the coach who had groomed and had sex with her for seven years, beginning when she was 17, and of the seriously flawed USA Swimming investigation of her complaint against MacFarland in 2010.
But Ehekircher’s allegations against Leonard, from her brief tenure as director of the SwimAmerica learn-to-swim program, rattled the ASCA boss, according to swimming insiders who talked about it with members of the ASCA board of directors. These sources said Leonard told the board he would respond to Concussion Inc.’s article with the Ehekircher account by planting counter-coverage through SwimVortex’s Craig Lord. Though several associates advised Leonard against this course, he persisted.
And in the process — for some unknown reason — Leonard and Lord decided to fold into the same SwimVortex article a counterattack on the line of thought that ASCA bears a measure of responsibility, small or large, in the 1994 relocation to America of Gibney, the most notorious at-large sex criminal in the history of global sports.
This line of thought has gained public consciousness and momentum since last December’s settlement of the Freedom of Information Act case, Muchnick v. Department of Homeland Security, for material from Gibney’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services files. Federal Judge Charles R. Breyer said in his ruling favorable to me, “[Muchnick] suspects that the American Swimming Coaches Association greased the wheels for Gibney’s relocation.” It makes zero sense that this experienced and distinguished senior judge would have idly dropped such a line into a decision that is now a published piece of federal immigration and public information case law.
The following are questions raised by the curious new public relations offensive of John Leonard — the most defiant voice in the American swimming establishment against reform of standards in coach-athlete relations. Indeed, he has said ASCA’s purpose does not directly involve the welfare of children “in any way, shape, or form.”
According to the article, “documents show that Leonard did indeed supply damning evidence to the potential employer, that Gibney was not employed as a result and that the Irishman took serious offence with ASCA when he found out.”
Further, “Gibney contacted ASCA, after failing to get a job at a program in Colorado, to tell them they had ‘no legal basis’ to provide the material charting the very serious allegations against him in Ireland. Leonard’s response was ‘go ahead and sue me’, on the grounds that even if he had escaped Irish justice on ‘some technicality as his lawyer indicated’, there was serious doubt as to whether any American court would find against those seeking to warn a club employing children of the nature of allegations against a coach seeking a job.”
Concussion Inc. will be forwarding this article to both Leonard and SwimVortex’s Lord. Leonard doesn’t ordinarily respond to our inquiries. As for Lord, he would be presumed, before reporting Leonard’s assertions, to have at least viewed purportedly exculpatory documents, even if SwimVortex considered them too sensitive to publish.
And with regard to the possible argument that they were too sensitive to publish — why? Leonard’s entire point is that he was brushing off a legal threat by Gibney and advancing the Colorado program’s, and by extension the public’s, right to know about Gibney’s Irish past. There is no coherent rationale for withholding such documents in 2018, at a time when Irish legislator Maureen O’Sullivan is appealing to sister American legislators Dianne Feinstein and Jackie Speier for the purpose of, among other things, coordinating the sharing of information about Gibney by Irish and U.S. law enforcement agencies.
In addition to contacting Leonard and Lord, I am reaching out to the North Jeffco Swim Club in Arvada, Colorado, where Gibney coached in the mid-late 1990s. His position there — and to the best of our knowledge, Gibney’s two-continent swim coaching career altogether — ended with a local police complaint of sexual misconduct by Gibney toward a swimmer. In fact, there were two investigations through this period by police departments in suburban Denver: one in Arvada and one by the department in nearby Wheat Ridge.
The police did not file charges against Gibney. However, the episode contributed to the belated exposure inside his Colorado community that he had been indicted in Ireland in 1993 on 27 counts of indecent carnal knowledge of minors; that the charges were vacated by a controversial 1994 Irish Supreme Court technical ruling; and that the Irish government’s 1998 Murphy Commission report concluded that Gibney’s accusers “were vindicated” by the evidence assembled by the Garda, the national police.
I’m also going back to the management of the North Jeffco club and to the regional supervisors, or local swim committee (LSC), of USA Swimming. In 2015 the co-head coaches of the team told us that the Gibney controversy preceded their time with the club. But that answer is not sufficient in light of all we’ve learned since then.
SwimVortex’s Lord wrote, “Leonard was deposed on the subject of Gibney several years ago but it came down to ‘no case to answer’.”
This is true to a point. Leonard was deposed on February 14, 2012, in Plantation, Florida, by attorney B. Robert Allard, who was representing a California swimmer, Jancy Thompson, in a sexual abuse case involving a coach named Norm Haverford. So it was an adversarial setting. Any good lawyer would have advised Leonard to answer Allard’s questions exactly as they were asked, and no more. For example, Leonard was not obligated to say, “I never helped George Gibney. As a matter of fact, I hurt George Gibney and here’s how.” (Though, it must be added, the preceding speculation in italics, if true, probably would have blunted a lot of criticism of USA Swimming and ASCA.)
All that said, the plain transcript of Leonard’s testimony excerpt on Gibney — reproduced below — leaves obvious ambiguities and open questions. (And farther below, at the very bottom of this article, readers can find the familiar comprehensive links to Concussion Inc.’s Gibney coverage for the last three years.)
Allard asked Leonard, “Did Mr. [Peter] Banks, to your knowledge, ever write a letter of support for George Gibney?”
Leonard replied, “Not to my knowledge.”
Allard: “… Have you ever communicated with Peter Banks anything about George Gibney?”
Leonard: “When the George Gibney information hit the newspapers, I called Peter and said, ‘Peter, did you ever write a letter of support on this guy,’ and Peter said, ‘No.’”
Leonard was asked whether he and Banks ever discussed “anything” about Gibney. Not anything in respect to their individual or ASCA’s institutional support of Gibney. Anything. It’s implausible that a conversation between Leonard and Banks, at what seems to be the time of the crisis of Gibney’s failed 2010 application for U.S. citizenship, would not have included Leonard’s purported alerts to torpedo a job in Colorado for Gibney, as well as any possible letter by Banks in support of Gibney.
Which leads to today’s final bullet.
As we’ve reported, Peter Banks, an Irish native and now an American citizen, was an assistant coach for Gibney’s Trojans club out of the Newpark Comprehensive School in Blackrock, County Dublin. Banks moved to Florida, and there he mentored at least one swimmer with very close ties to Gibney. Banks also coached American Olympian Brooke Bennett, and his success with her led to his own position on the Olympic team coaching staff at the 2000 Sydney Games.
Later Banks moved back to Ireland and became high performance director for Swim Ireland — the rebranded name of what had been the Irish Amateur Swimming Association prior to the sexual abuse scandals that landed several prominent Irish coaches in prison. (But not Gibney, of course. As Judge Breyer wrote in his decision in my FOIA case, “Gibney got away.”)
In 2016 Banks moved to the U.S. a second time. Today he coaches for Pipeline Swimming in Florida’s Tampa Bay Area. He has not responded to our inquiries. Nor has Pipeline Swimming’s management. Ira Klein, an official of USA Swimming’s Florida regional affiliate (and also a long-time ASCA board member), gave evasive answers to Concussion Inc.’s follow-ups.
So once again, Coach Banks: Did you write a letter in support of George Gibney? Is John Leonard telling the truth about what you told him? And is what you told John Leonard the truth?
No, strike that.
Coach Banks: Did you and John Leonard, the potentate of the American Swimming Coaches Association, who now stands accused of sexual harassment himself, discuss anything pertaining to George Gibney, his flight to America, and his coaching employment in Colorado? If yes, please share with the public everything you said and did in these respects.
The ASCA board of directors meets next month. Last week the director Jim Richardson told us, “I am sure that the board will be discussing this issue.”
Q. Do you know of a coach named George Gibney? G-I-B-N-E-Y.
A. I do not. I know who he is. But if he walked in the door, I wouldn’t recognize him.
Q. Were you ever involved in George Gibney receiving a visa to come here from Ireland after he was, after he fled the country amidst allegations of sex abuse?
Q. Did you ever write a letter of support for George Gibney?
Q. Did you or anybody from ASCA, to your knowledge, ever sponsor George Gibney?
A. No. Just what does sponsor mean? Excuse me.
Q. As I understand it, when someone wants to obtain a visa here for USA citizenship, one must obtain a sponsor that is a USA citizen of good standing. [SIC]
A. I’m not aware of anyone doing that.
Q. Do you know Peter Banks?
A. I do.
Q. And did he at one point in time work for you?
A. He did.
Q. Did he, at one point in time, to your knowledge, work for George Gibney?
A. I don’t know whether he did or not.
Q. During what period of time did Peter Banks work for you?
A. I want to say ’90 to ’94.
Q. Did Mr. Banks, to your knowledge, ever write a letter of support for George Gibney?
A. Not to my knowledge.
Q. Have you ever discussed with Peter Banks — strike that. Have you ever communicated with Peter Banks anything about George Gibney?
A. When the George Gibney information hit the newspapers, I called Peter and said, “Peter, did you ever write a letter of support on this guy,” and Peter said, “No.”
Q. And when did you have that conversation?
A. I can’t recall.