by Irvin Muchnick
The Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, Florida, has a new assistant swimming coach, Irish-American Peter Banks. He is an old man with a lot of transatlantic baggage.
It is a time of reckoning for sexual abuse in general. As I write this, Pope Francis is completing a stormy two-day visit to Banks’s native country of Ireland, seat of many of the Catholic Church’s worst cases of clerical sexual abuse and its cover-up.
But the Ireland of Peter Banks also has a horrific legacy of molestation of children by authority figures in another realm: the sport of swimming. And as with the church, the story is ongoing and multinational. A prominent coach in both Ireland and the United States (where he is a citizen), Banks has at least a cameo role in that narrative, maybe more. At the very least, he is an observer. At worst, he is an enabler.
Whether Berkeley Prep knew about all this when they hired Banks, on the rebound from the Tampa Bay area’s Pipeline Swimming, is not known and not the point. The school knows now.
So far a spokesperson for Joseph Seivold, the headmaster, and Bobby Reinhart, the athletic director, has fallen back on the assertion that they vetted Banks with a standard background check and references, which showed no history of criminal allegations against him. But that is not our question. Or rather, the thrust of any of our questions.
The questions are:
Corollary questions include:
The Gibney saga long ago passed from news headlines to the scrap heap of abuse history. I, myself, have been at the story for nearly four years. This work has included a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for Gibney’s American immigration records that raised tantalizing additional questions concerning this country’s shameful contribution to that history.
(Gibney was denied American citizenship in 2010 — evidently, for illegally concealing from his citizenship application a disclosure of his criminal indictment in Ireland. But he’s still living here. He was most recently sighted in Altamonte Springs, Florida.)
The quest for Gibney justice still makes headlines in Ireland, mostly in the tropes and cliches of Simon Wiesenthal-style Nazi-hunting. But for me it has always been about more than that. It is, additionally, a quest for accountability for the swimming organizations and institutions, as well as the law enforcement agencies and governments, on two continents.
To be sure, it is a story of victims, too — more than we’ll ever know. Not all of their lives were shattered, but many surely were. Some of those cases took families, relationship partners, and new generations of children down with them. Just during the period of Concussion Inc.’s coverage, we’ve learned of at least three newly surfaced victims of Gibney’s sick ways on the pool decks and in the back rooms of Irish swimming from the late sixties through the early nineties. At least one Gibney victim killed herself. At least one other has been institutionalized.
Oh, and one more thing: At least one of Gibney’s crimes occurred right here on American soil — indeed, within miles of the Berkeley Prep campus where his former assistant Banks now imparts his deep 40-year bank of swimming knowledge. In 1991 Gibney raped one of his teen swimmers in a Tampa hotel during a training trip. An Irish swimming official would drug the girl and take her to England for an abortion.
This was three years after Banks left Gibney’s employ, and three years before Banks and ASCA very well might have — in the words of my FOIA case judge, Charles R. Breyer — “greased the wheels” for Gibney’s Colorado coaching job.
You don’t believe me? Then believe the 1998 Irish government’s Murphy Inquiry, which was commissioned four years after Gibney’s flight to America. That report, authored by Justice Roderick Murphy, delved into widespread abuses throughout the national swimming program. Gibney was cited therein as “the first named coach.” After summarizing the allegations of at least six, and possibly as many as nine, Gibney complainants, Murphy concluded, “In light of the charges arising out of the Garda [national police] investigation the complainants were vindicated.”
The Murphy Inquiry is the reason the Irish Amateur Swimming Association was disbanded and reconstituted as Swim Ireland. Critics say this was little more than a name change, a “rebranding.” Peter Banks himself would return to Ireland and hold Swim Ireland’s top coaching post for seven years, before he came back to the U.S. in 2016 as a coach for Pipeline Swimming.
Pipeline’s owner, Rene Piper, hasn’t bothered to deny that she recently separated Banks from the team because of our questions about his Gibney ties. (These ties include the proud citation — still up online at his ASCA Hall of Fame biography and in the Berkeley Preparatory School announcement of his hire there — of Banks’s coaching in America of at least one Irish swimmer very close to Gibney.) Piper merely said, “That sounds fair,” when I told her that the timing of her coach’s departure invited speculation that the Gibney association precipitated it. Piper said her refusal to comment further “could change should he decide to break agreements he had.”
So, did Banks disclose all this during his Berkeley Prep job interviews?
Will Berkeley Prep pursue the answers now?
Over the weekend I checked in with some of my Irish swimming sources. One of them said, “I met Banks on the poolside a few years back and he seemed rather coy and standoffish. I don’t know whether he was ever a party to Gibney’s exploits. But I always thought he knew something and said nothing. Which, considering he was a mature adult, is disgusting.”
Here’s what’s known from the existing record.
In 2010 the late and disgraced chief executive of USA Swimming, Chuck Wielgus, was asked about Gibney in a deposition in one of the dozens of civil lawsuits against the organization by abuse victims — in this exchange:
Q Another name I want to throw out to you, George Gibney. Any — does that ring a bell at all?
A That does not ring a bell.
Q Do you know if he’s a USA Swimming swim coach?
A Actually —
A — sounds like a — sounds like an Irish — is he an Irish coach?
A Yeah, I think I’ve heard the name.
Q Was he ever a USA Swimming coach?
A Not — I don’t know the answer to that.
Q You don’t know if he’s a member now?
A I do not know he’s a member now, but he was a coach in Ireland.
Q Is he on either list, flagged or banned?
A I don’t know. I don’t know.
ASCA executive director Leonard was also deposed. Here’s what he said:
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.
In January of this year — during the same period, following the settlement of my FOIA case with the federal government, when I made the inquiries that seemed to lead to Banks’s departure from Pipeline Swimming — Ira Klein, the chair of Florida Swimming, USA Swimming’s regional affiliate, told me, “I don’t know George Gibney and he has never been a member of Florida Swimming.”
In March, Banks’s old boss at ASCA, executive director Leonard, claimed to the now-defunct swimming news website Swim Vortex that he and ASCA had taken action to block Gibney’s hire by a Colorado club in the 1990s. But Leonard’s ambiguous remark left open the highly likely possibility that what he was referring to was a second possible coaching job in America for Gibney. This would have been after Gibney already had been dismissed in 1995 by his first team in Colorado, the North Jeffco club in the Denver suburb of Arvada, following a misconduct complaint against him there, the exposure of his Irish past, and a secret report on him by the Arvada police.
Earlier this year the new U.S. Center for SafeSport told Maureen O’Sullivan, an Irish legislator spearheading the campaign for Gibney’s extradition and trial on both old and new charges of abuse, molestation, and rape, that it is investigating Gibney’s American coaching history and specifically trying to get more information from the Colorado police report.
The owner of SwimVortex, which hyped Leonard’s denials, was Craig Lord, an English journalist. Lord refused to release to me the “documents” from Leonard purportedly corroborating his and ASCA’s account, because Lord said was “working on” a story about it. Weeks later, Lord closed down Swim Vortex.
And today Peter Banks is the new assistant swimming coach for Berkeley Preparatory School and the affiliated USA Swimming age-group program, the Barracudas..
Is it really OK for Banks, headmaster Joseph Seivold, and athletic director Bobby Reinhart to continue their stony silence on all things Gibney?
I don’t think so.