What They’ve Said in America (And Mostly Not Said) About George Gibney

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by Irvin Muchnick

To reinforce the message of recent months: My best information is that the 25-year United States tour of George Gibney — rapist former Irish Olympic swimming coach and most notorious at-large sex criminal in the history of global sports — will soon expire. Though I do not have details, the very latest I’ve learned regarding the Department of Justice office playing point in the Gibney matter leaves me more confident than ever in this educated prediction.

If it does happen, Gibney’s deportation will provoke multiple transoceanic ripples. One we should not forget is an accounting of the role of the American swimming establishment and others for his long safe harbor here.

For today’s contribution to the record from a Gibney-in-waiting journalist, I have scrolled back through five years of coverage and compiled anew everything said about him by those in this country who have been asked. These are mostly, but not only, swimming people, some in leadership positions and some rank-and-file, who theoretically could have chosen to volunteer answers more ambitious than “George Who?”

The burden of this compilation remains whatever might be known or intuited. It is difficult, but not out of bounds, to speculate that much has been suspected but not expressed. The point being, no one knows everything, but everyone has the capability of asking someone else who might know more. Many consumers of the news of sexual abuse scandals believe they are about the perps. That is only half-true. Scandals are also often about the cultural incuriosity in which bad actors survive and thrive.

In the case of Gibney in America, we’ve had one singularly direct figure: Charles R. Breyer, senior judge in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and the brother of a U.S. Supreme Court justice, Stephen Breyer. It was Charles Breyer who, in 2016, decided “(largely) in Muchnick’s favor,” as he put it, in my Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security for Gibney’s immigration records. The settlement of the government’s appeal, a year later, would set the stage for the current involvement of federal agents who are closing in on Gibney, in an offshoot of a grand jury investigation of USA Swimming in New York, according to sources close to the grand jury.

In preparation for his ruling, Judge Breyer did something unique: He actually explored the narrative background of my FOIA request. He even read a book about it.

What Breyer then said about Gibney’s immigration conundrum was simple and, more than three years later, remains compelling and unresolved: “I have to assume that if somebody has been charged with the types of offenses that Mr. Gibney has been charged with, the United States, absent other circumstances, would not grant a visa. We’re not a refuge for pedophiles.”

Other Americans in positions high and low seem to have had a harder time spitting it out.

***

USA Swimming CEO Chuck Wielgus; USA Swimming CEO Tim Hinchey

Chuck Wielgus was the chief executive of USA Swimming from 1997 until his death in 2017. On May 12, 2010, Wielgus was deposed in one of the many lawsuits against the organization for its culpability in a member coach’s abuse of one of their young swimmers.

This deposition, incidentally, landed during fulcrum events in the efforts to get Gibney kicked out of the country. Florida-based Irish-American activist Evin Daly, was hounding Gibney and was joined by some of his Orlando area neighbors amidst fresh reports of why he had fled here in the mid-1990s. The news accounts of the controversy were readily available to Wielgus’s office — unless, that is, the only things to which the Colorado Springs group wanted to pay notice were things like the latest embarrassing indiscretions by Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, or other TV-genic ambassadors of the U.S. Olympic “brand.”

At the time, apparently seeking to put a strategic halt to the ongoing ambiguity of his resident alien status, Gibney applied for naturalized citizenship. His application was denied by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, evidently because Gibney withheld material information from the application that Daly already had shared with the government: the former coach had been indicted in his native country in 1993 on 27 counts of illicit carnal knowledge of minors. But another Homeland Security agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, simultaneously decreed that Gibney was not a candidate for removal from the U.S. — because he had not been convicted of those crimes, thanks to a 1994 Irish Supreme Court ruling that some of the charges went too far back in time for him to be assured a fair trial.

At his deposition, USA Swimming boss Wielgus was quizzed about Gibney, who upon his arrival in America had coached for the North Jeffco club in Arvada, Colorado. Asked if the name “George Gibney” rang a bell, Wielgus said: “That does not ring a bell…. Actually — sounds like a — sounds like an Irish — is he an Irish coach?”

Yes,” the lawyer questioning Wielgus affirmed — whereupon the chief concluded: “Yeah, I think I’ve heard the name.”

In answer to another question, Wielgus testified that he did not know if Gibney was or had ever been a USA Swimming member. Under the rules, Gibney would have had to have become a member in order to coach in Colorado.

For the last seven years of his presiding tenure and his life, Wielgus proceeded on a course of cringingly defensive media interviews about USA Swimming’s widespread abuse problem. He used funds from the dues of nearly half a million members to develop and promote a fraudulent “Safe Sport program,” which would go on to adjudicate abuse complaints in the fundamentally same USA Swimming-friendly, victim-unfriendly way as before. And he continued overseeing a scam offshore reinsurance subsidiary in Barbados. All for annual compensation of a million dollars, give or take.

Currently, the Wall Street Journal and others have reported, USA Swimming is under investigation by a federal grand jury in New York for insurance fraud, hiding of assets, and attendant cover-ups.

Wielgus’s successor is Tim Hinchey. With the feds bearing down on Gibney, I last year emailed Hinchey and his spokesperson to reiterate the question posed to Wielgus in 2010: Was Gibney ever a member of USA Swimming? Unlike Wielgus’s off-the-cuff response at deposition, Hinchey’s answer could have been supported by a check of USA Swimming’s archival records.

Unfortunately, since the day I emailed Hinchey, the only thing reverberating across the ether in return has been the low screech of crickets rubbing their legs together.

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Former USA Swimming board president, and still international swimming governance leader, Dale Neuburger

Dale Neuburger was deposed on January 7, 2011, in a lawsuit against USA Swimming by “Jane Doe,” who had been molested by now-imprisoned coach Andy King. A long-time board member, Neuburger was president from 1998 to 2002. He is also on the board of FINA, the international swimming body.

“Do you know who George Gibney is?” Neuburger was asked.

“No,” he replied.

All of which sounds straightforward enough, until you understand Neuburger’s shaky history of forthcomingness. In deposition, he also was asked about a notorious abusive coach, Mitch Ivey, who was indeed a household name in American swimming, and eventually and belatedly got banned. Ivey had been fired as women’s coach at the University of Florida following a report by ESPN’s Outside the Lines exposing his sexually predatory practices with his athletes. Yet Neuburger claimed he was unfamiliar with the Outside the Lines broadcast, and acted as though he barely knew Ivey.

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Hall of Fame Swimmer and Former USA Swimming Board Member David Berkoff

The involvement of the inventor of the revolutionary “Berkoff Blastoff” backstroke underwater start is of a different order than that of other swimming officials. Though David Berkoff’s follow-through was controversially weak, he did get elected to the board with the express goal of doing something about abuse. And he did try to do something about abuse.

One of the things he did, after his election as a USA Swimming vice president in 2010, was to circulate to fellow board members a 69-page research paper on various categories of convicted or reported abusive coaches, banned and unbanned, the world over. Gibney was part of the Berkoff memorandum’s discussion of foreign and not-banned coaches — which in combination with other sections makes this document, in my view, the closest thing we have to the content of what USA Swimming insiders say is the executive leadership’s secret watch or “flagged” list.

Berkoff’s Gibney entry was full of mistakes, but at least it was a nice try. It called Gibney “ARRESTED, RELEASED & ON THE RUN.” It said child rape charges had been dismissed “on legal technicalities” and that he was “alleged to have raped an Irish female swimmer he held captive in a Florida hotel room in the early 1990’s while on a training trip.” It wrapped up: “Gibney apparently lives in Florida but Irish officials are seeking his extradition. The list of his victims is alleged to be substantial. Gibney is asserted to have coached in Colorado while in the US for North Jeffco Aquatics.”

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American Swimming Coaches Association Executive Director John Leonard

“Muchnick,” Judge Breyer wrote in his 2016 FOIA decision, “hopes to uncover how American authorities allowed an alleged sexual predator to enter and reside in the United States despite the scandal swirling around him in his native Ireland. He also suspects that the American Swimming Coaches Association greased the wheels for Gibney’s relocation.”

That I do, and for good reason.

ASCA executive director John Leonard has been, for decades, the No. 1 obstacle to corrective action on the toxic problem of youth coach sexual abuse. In 2012 he told me that ASCA is not “an organization that deals directly with children, nor is that part of our purpose in any way, shape, or form.”

Though there is not yet evidence that ASCA dealt directly with the troubleshooting of George Gibney’s immigration “in any way, shape, or form,” there is plenty of evidence that troubleshooting coaches’ visas is what ASCA does. Indeed, the organization advertises its affiliation with a law office for this purpose.

Further, my FOIA case revealed the existence of an American swim coach job offer to Gibney, with the sender’s name redacted. And Gibney did in fact coach, in 1995, for USA Swimming’s North Jeffco club in Arvada, Colorado, a Denver suburb.

In 2018 Leonard surrogate Craig Lord, writing for his now defunct website SwimVortex, alleged that documents in his possession showed that Leonard and ASCA were innocent. Lord even wrote that Leonard supplied “damning evidence” to a potential employer and that “Gibney was not employed as a result.”

However, SwimVortex, which went out of business shortly after the publication of this article, did not publish or describe these alleged documents. Among other questions, Lord declined to clarify whether he was actually referring to a second coaching job offer for Gibney after he had already been fired at North Jeffco, following a police investigation of alleged misconduct and exposure of his Irish past in his new local community.

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ASCA Official and Former Gibney Assistant Peter Banks

Peter Banks was an assistant coach under Gibney on the Trojans team out of Newpark Comprehensive School in Blackrock, County Dublin. Banks has gone on to coach in the U.S. (where he became a citizen and a member of the Olympic coaching staff), back in Ireland (where he was performance director for the national program, Swim Ireland), and now again in Florida. During his first American stint, Banks also was on the staff of Leonard’s ASCA during the same period when Gibney was emigrating.

In a detail that I have been extremely hesitant to report, Banks coached Gibney’s adopted daughter in Florida. My hesitance is overcome by the fact that this data point is prominent in the biography of Banks at ASCA, where he is a member of the organization’s Hall of Fame.

An Irish journalist told me that Banks said several years ago that he would not comment on the circumstances raising questions about his relationship with George Gibney and a possible personal or ASCA role in helping him relocate to America.

Banks has never acknowledged or responded to multiple queries by Concussion Inc. emailed directly to him or through employers. 

***

Other ASCA Officials

On March 30, 2018, ASCA board member Jim Richardson emailed me, “We are meeting in early April and I am sure that the board will be discussing [the George Gibney] issue.” Richardson did not respond to my multiple further queries to him.

On January 11, 2018, another ASCA board member, Ira Klein, emailed me. Klein also was the chair of Florida Swimming, a regional affiliate of USA Swimming. Klein wrote that he did not know Gibney “and our records show that he has never been a member of Florida Swimming.”

Last June, with a now-aging John Leonard beginning to hand over ASCA power to others, I asked Paris Jacobs, the group’s new chief operating officer, to explore ASCA’s records on Gibney. Jacobs said she would. However, she subsequently stopped responding to my messages.

***

Local Colorado Swimming and Parks and Recreation Officials

The current co-head coaches at North Jeffco in Colorado, Carmen Babcock and Brett Stoyell, who started a few years after Gibney, have told me that he coached there before their time and they don’t know anything about him.

Andy Lehrner, an earlier successor to Gibney, emailed me two years ago, “I began coaching North Jeffco in May of 1997. I never met George Gibney nor do I know anything about him.”

North Jeffco used the facilities of the Apex Park and Recreation District. In 2018 I asked the district’s executive director, Lauri Dannemiller, for historical information on Gibney. A lawyer for the district, Linda M. Glesne, emailed back.

“Apex staff have undertaken a sincere effort to research historical files related to this former employee, as well as an additional individual you mention named Ken Kelly, and have been responsive to your request with as much information as could be verified within the District’s archived public records (which is unfortunately, not much),” Glesne wrote. “Apex staff reviewed information that they were able to find in news articles printed at the time of the incidents you recount in your emails, which we expect you have also reviewed. However, Apex does not have any records which confirm any additional information related to your requests.”

Ken Kelley — not “Kelly” — was the first lifeguard hired in the history of the district, in 1957, and a long-time admired swimming coach and eminence grise, including through the Gibney period. When Kelley died in 2016, Apex’s own newsletter had published a long obituary headlined, “Coach Ken Kelley Remembered for a Life Dedicated to Swimming.”

***

Arvada Police

Gibney resigned or was fired from the North Jeffco Hurricanes in 1995. The triggers were a complaint that he had pinched or snapped the swimsuit strap of a girl swimmer, and the revelation of his indictment in Ireland for sexual abuse. Somewhere in the course of this drama came a report by the police department of Arvada. The sequence of events is unclear; it is still not known whether the report prompted the separation of Gibney from the team, or merely reflected a dynamic that had already played out.

According to multiple sources, the author of the Arvada report, Sergeant Jo Ann Rzeppa, was among a group of local police personnel who were conflicted in the Gibney matter because they had youth swimmers at North Jeffco, and the team could have been harmed by adverse publicity. In 2018 the department issued a statement to Concussion Inc. denying that Rzeppa had children. Rzeppa herself, who is retired from the force, rebuffed efforts to get her to comment, in both 2015 and 2018.

***

Catholic Church

In the second edition of my ebook about George Gibney, published last July, I develop information pertaining to his chairmanship of a children’s medical mission, sponsored by an as-yet-unknown local Catholic parish, at the time of the police investigation of him in 2000 in a second Denver suburb, Wheat Ridge. The George Gibney Chronicles points out that this activity coincided with a period of inroads into the Archdiocese of Denver by a Catholic sect in Peru, Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, that is tied to widespread sexual abuse through that period, by the group’s now-disgraced founder and others.

The global Catholic humanitarian organization, Catholic Relief Services, said it knew nothing about Gibney’s mission and such local initiatives operate independently. The Archdiocese of Denver said it had no records of medical missions by its member parishes.

Acting on a tip by an area monsignor that I should query Holy Name Church, the local parish now affiliated with the Sodalitium, I emailed Holy Name’s native Peruvian pastor, Father Daniel Cardó. He wrote back, “I do not know of any connection between that mission. I had not heard about Gibney or that mission” before my inquiry.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia held the same position at the Archdiocese of Denver when the Sodalitium was establishing its presence there in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Chaput’s spokesperson, Kenneth A. Gavin, told me, “Archbishop Chaput does not know George Gibney and has never had any contact with him. In addition, the Archdiocese of Denver had no connection to medical missionary trips to Peru while Archbishop Chaput was serving as the Ordinary there.”

***

Wheat Ridge Police

Wheat Ridge filed two reports on Gibney. The first, in 1998, was destroyed in 2003 under the Colorado records retention schedule of that time, according to the police.

The second report, in 2000, was by a detective, Lila Cohen, who subsequently left the force and became a therapist. Last year this former detective, now going by the name Lila Adams, agreed to be interviewed by an Anglo-Irish broadcast crew, but wiggled out of a scheduled interview with me. She claimed that the interview had to be cleared by her former department supervisor. But her former supervisor, division chief Dave Pickett, said this was not so.

The 2000 report was prompted by information from the owner of Gibney’s employer, a personnel and accounting consultant, who had discovered lies in his representations about his past. Detective Cohen found that items in his current resume were true, to the detriment of the safety of young people in the community. For example, Gibney was, as he claimed, on the board of a local state college program for at-risk youth.

According to the resume, Gibney also chaired the “International Peru Eye Clinic Foundation.” The cop observed in her report: “I was very concerned that Gibney was working with children, especially children with issues such as being in detention or having eye problems. I further advised her that I was concerned that Gibney may travel with children in his parish to Peru.”

Yet she never tracked down this church or its Peruvian mission. Sources who have spoken recently to Lila Adams say the reason was that she was directed to wrap up the report, which involved no new known criminality at that point, and move on.

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THE GEORGE GIBNEY CHRONICLES: What the Hunt For the Most Notorious At-Large Sex Criminal in the History of Global Sports Has Told Us About the Sports Establishments and Governments on Two Continents is available for $3.49 US at amzn.to/2SmU16c. If you don’t have a Kindle-compatible device, you can get a PDF copy emailed to you by remitting $3.49 through PayPal to paypal@muchnick.net.

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Chronological links to our series, which began January 27, 2015, under the headline “Why Is George Gibney — No. 1 At-Large Pedophile in Global Sports — Living in Florida? And Who Sponsored His Green Card?”: https://concussioninc.net/?p=10942

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