Originally published on February 9. The producers of the BBC / Second Captains podcast documentary Where Is George Gibney? now say the series will launch in August.
Donald Trump factor? Almost certainly not
BBC/Second Captains’ flirtation
To be continued
by Irvin Muchnick
The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has completed gathering basic information from two years of investigating whether George Gibney should be removed from the country, ten years after the former Olympic swimming coach lied on a failed citizenship application about historical child sexual abuse charges in his native Ireland, federal grand jury sources have told Concussion Inc.
The government’s reexamination of Gibney’s permanent resident alien status — a probe prompted by the 2017 output of this reporter’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security for production of his immigration records — is connected to a grand jury investigation in the Southern District of New York, as reported by the Wall Street Journal and other American newspapers. The grand jury is focused on insurance fraud, asset hiding, and abuse cover-up practices of USA Swimming, the national sport governing body under the Colorado-based U.S. Olympic Committee.
The Gibney connection is reinforced by what I now can report, for the first time, is coordination with an office at DOJ headquarters in Washington that has been in charge of the Gibney aspect of the investigation. The office is known as MLARS — short for Money Laundering & Asset Recovery Section. The official there playing point on Gibney is Jane Khodarkovsky, whose title is Human Trafficking Finance Specialist.
Khodarkovsky has not responded to emails and a phone message requesting comment for this article. Recently, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, issued identical “We’re declining to comment” statements to Concussion Inc. and the several Irish media outlets that are known to have submitted queries about our Gibney investigation status information.
Prior to starting at DOJ in December 2018, Khodarkovsky was an assistant district attorney in New York City. Before that, she was a deputy in the Official Corruption Bureau of the New Jersey state attorney general.
This article is occasioned by last week’s announcement from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), in association with the Irish podcast company Second Captains, that they will start airing in May a podcast documentary series entitled Where Is George Gibney? (The short latest answer to the title question, to the best of my knowledge, is that Gibney is still living in Altamonte Springs, Florida, in the Orlando area; this most recent outpost of his multi-state moves throughout the U.S. for the last quarter of a century has lasted for at least a decade.)
Below, I outline, among other things, my contacts with the BBC/Second Captains team and my decision last year not to be involved in their project, which I was concerned would mostly be poaching my own years of work on this subject, to no clear end.
While I have been reporting on George Gibney since 2015, I have been investigating and writing about the coach sexual abuse problem at U.S. Olympic-affiliated youth sports programs since 2012. Late that year, in a civil lawsuit by an abuse victim, the California Supreme Court ordered USA Swimming to file, under seal, thousands of pages of documents sought by the plaintiff in the litigation’s discovery phase. These were internal USA Swimming documents reflecting the handling of hundreds of abuse complaints. Prior to the state Supreme Court ruling, the organization had defied multiple disclosure orders by lower courts and paid out tens of thousands of dollars in contempt sanctions.
Following the state Supreme Court order and the submission of this tranche of documents, they were subpoenaed by a California office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In leaks over the next two years, my then-collaborator Tim Joyce and I acquired many of them.
I mention our non-Gibney reporting in order to emphasize that Concussion Inc.’s coverage of abuse in global swimming has included many of the core topics of the current federal grand jury investigation. For example, in a multi-part series in 2013, we first broke down the finances and irregularities of USA Swimming’s then wholly-owned reinsurance subsidiary, the United States Sports Insurance Company, which was based, for regulatory-dodging purposes, on the Caribbean island of Barbados.
I cannot report with certainty that the scope of the current Gibney investigation extends past his immigration status, per se, and the two-continent campaign to bring him to justice (both back in Ireland and, in the U.S., for his rape and impregnation of one of his Irish swimmers during a 1991 training trip in Tampa, Florida, several years before he exercised visa privileges and became a resident alien).
However, the fact that this work is being spearheaded by DOJ’s MLARS office suggests that the Gibney matter could, indeed, include or relate to allegations of financial fraud or other crimes — these in addition to Gibney’s known instances of sexual molestation and assault.
Gibney’s 27-count indictment in 1993 got aborted by a controversial Irish Supreme Court ruling the next year, which said the passage of time had fatally compromised his right to a fair trial. But activists in the campaign to get him kicked out of this country believe there are legal and factual grounds for revisiting that court decision, as well as for trying Gibney on newly risen allegations. They note that a 1998 Irish government inquiry, commissioned to investigate widespread sexual abuse in Irish youth swimming programs, concluded that the many Gibney accusers who were interviewed for the report, authored by Justice Roderick Murphy, were “vindicated” by the evidence from An Garda Síochána, the national police.
Without indulgence, I reinforce for readers that the current U.S. government Gibney investigation, now approaching a climax of some sort, is all but entirely a function of my reporting.
According to my grand jury sources, after government attorneys and mine finalized a December 2017 settlement of the formers’ appeal of the FOIA ruling in my favor the previous year, by U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer, federal agents began following this site.
The settlement at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sanitized the release of more than 100 pages of Gibney’s immigration records, some in redacted form. Of course, agents for the FBI and other federal government entities have access to their fully unredacted versions. They also have resources for seeking out and interviewing witnesses and for synthesizing information across governmental jurisdictions, including those of foreign governments.
Crucially, the 2017 settlement elicited the government’s public acknowledgments that Gibney had arrived here in the mid-1990s on a diversity lottery visa, and that he had applied for naturalized citizenship in 2010 but the application was denied by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Accompanying documentation clearly showed that USCIS had instructed Gibney to redo his application with an eye toward faithfully recording his past indictment for alleged crimes in Ireland.
The reason USCIS officials in 2010 were aware, in the first place, that Gibney had falsely represented that he had never been arrested or charged with a crime was that Irish-American Evin Daly, head of the Florida-based child protection group One Child International, had just fully informed the government of this background.
The other key piece of the 2010 records was what puzzled Judge Breyer (who prior to his ruling had taken it upon himself to review privately, or in camera, all the disputed documents of the FOIA case). That piece was a letter by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which was issued in conjunction with USCIS’s rejection, for cause, of Gibney’s citizenship application. The ICE letter instructed that, despite this debacle, Gibney could not be removed from the country because there was no evidence that he had ever been convicted of a crime.
From the bench in 2016, the judge noted that, in his experience, material misrepresentations to the government led to consequences — for example, in some cases, to revocation of the passports of actual citizens.
In his written and published FOIA decision, Breyer exhaustively reviewed the history of Gibney and the Irish abuse scandals. “We’re not a refuge for pedophiles,” Breyer wrote.
Headline links to my dozens of articles about Gibney over the last five years are gathered at https://concussioninc.net/?p=10942. The first, on January 27, 2015, was headlined “Why Is George Gibney — No. 1 At-Large Pedophile in Global Sports — Living in Florida? And Who Sponsored His Green Card?”
In February 2019 I published the ebook 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. It is available for $3.49 US via either Amazon Kindle (amzn.to/2SmU16c) or direct PDF from the author ([email protected]).
In July of last year, I published a second edition of THE GEORGE GIBNEY CHRONICLES, with new material reflecting information from grand jury sources that federal agents were focusing not on questions about Gibney’s immigration paperwork and possible untruths therein, but rather on whether he had engaged in nefarious activity as a leader of a Colorado Catholic Church parish’s children’s eye clinic mission in Peru. The ebook developed the possible connection between Gibney’s Peruvian missionary work and the contemporaneous expansion into the Archdiocese of Denver of a Peruvian Catholic sect, Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, which has acknowledged the validity of allegations of sexual abuse, kidnapping, and other crimes by the sect’s founder and other leaders through the same period.
Donald Trump factor? Almost certainly not
With resolution of the U.S. government’s Gibney investigation at hand, one way or the other, the question inevitably emerges as to what hand President Trump’s personal history, policies, and rhetoric might play in it.
From what I can tell, there is no input into all this at the level of the presidency. If I am wrong about that and it turns out that there is, then it seems to me that the advantages and disadvantages to Trump cut both ways for his resume or his agenda on immigration or sexual abuse or crime; they are self-canceling. I see no reason to belabor the parlor exercise of such speculation. For what it’s worth, George Gibney arrived here during the Bill Clinton administration. The 2010 ICE decision that Gibney was “not removable” happened during the Barack Obama administration.
But another story altogether could be the friends of Gibney in high places in Ireland, who helped manufacture his perfectly timed Donnelly diversity visa. (For all we know, they might have scored for him the golden “lottery” visa ticket itself.) There is more information out there pertaining to speculation on this score, floating in the Irish rumor chain. The speculation attaches to famous names. I hope to be able to get more into this angle of the story in due course.
Hobbled by Gibney’s lack of name recognition on this side of the Atlantic, and pusillanimous by nature when it comes to tackling important sexual assault narratives until they are either the flavor of the month or have risen, in the cliche, to the level of “a dead girl or a live boy,” major American outlets have been slow to pick up on the documented reporting so far published only at my modest-circulation platforms.
The current connection to the more general and better-understood federal grand jury investigation of USA Swimming is a hook for which I remain hopeful for major coverage, though I am not unrealistically optimistic. Definitive action on Gibney seems to be one of those chicken-and-egg or “Alphonse-and-Gaston” processes, with multiple moving parts. Will the Irish government ask for Gibney’s extradition before they are certain that the return answer would be yes? Will the U.S. government seek to deport Gibney before being issued a formal extradition request?
And perhaps equally important: In the realpolitik always factoring into such matters, will DOJ’s MLARS office ever flip the switch absent pressure from a more powerful media player than myself?
In 2016, during an early stage of my FOIA litigation, I was interviewed for a segment on Fox News called Sports Court. You can view the clip, “Gov’t hiding immigration docs on accused pedophile,” at https://video.foxnews.com/v/4744406376001#sp=show-clips. Ironically, the interviewer and producer of Sports Court, Tamara Holder, herself would resign from Fox News late that year as part of a multimillion-dollar settlement of a claim that she was sexually harassed and assaulted by an executive. Holder thus became part of the real-life narrative of the current movie Bombshell, which is mostly about Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson, two higher-profile ex-Fox News personalities.
Later in 2016, with the help of a friend of mine who was a San Francisco Chronicle columnist, the newspaper’s long-time federal courts reporter, Bob Egelko, was enlisted to write about Judge Breyer’s FOIA ruling. See https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Judge-warns-U-S-over-Irish-immigrant-s-10592267.php.
And that’s it for American media on George Gibney.
Heinous scandals with long tails — whether they’re Jeffrey Epstein or Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein or George Gibney — are always festivals of missed opportunities. In 2014 Chuck Wielgus, the chief executive of USA Swimming, withdrew from his scheduled induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in response to a petition campaign by abuse victims who raised the public consciousness of his two-decade role in covering up their cases — and in at least one of them, committing unindicted perjury. At the time, George Diaz, a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, bragged to me that his column opining “Why does this man still have a job?” was “one of the five entries that got me a Top 10 acknowledgment by Associated Press Sports Editors as one of the top columnists in the country.”
I found this a strange boast, insofar as (a) on the front end, Diaz had not been responsible for exposing Wielgus’s administration and lies, and (b) on the back end, in any case, Wielgus would remain in his million-dollar-a-year post until he died in 2017. One of the top ten yapping jackals of a fortnight’s media scrum? For sure. Hands down.
But the reason I bring this up is something else: The Orlando Sentinel was George Gibney’s now-home market, and for years I importuned Diaz to jump into the pool on this story, which looked to be right in his wheelhouse. (He did columns mentioning his adoption of a foster child and he advocated for that population.) Yet nothing ever happened.
In November 2014 Diaz told me he had been out sick for three weeks.
In February 2015 Diaz said he was tied up with coverage of the Daytona 500 motor race, but he promised to put Gibney “on the radar screen ASAP.”
In August 2015 Diaz wrote to me, “I have to be honest, I really have been meaning to get to this, but so slammed…”
June 2017: “I will be in touch with editors today. Trust me the issue is not lack of interest…it’s lack of manpower and time…given all the cutbacks that have faced newspapers through the years it’s simply a matter of Last Man (or Woman) standing.”
April 2018: Diaz was downsized out of his column at the Sentinel.
November 2018: The Orlando Sentinel laid off George Diaz.
Then we have the tale of Outside magazine. In early 2018, in the wake of the FOIA settlement with the government and the then-exploding scandal of USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, I was approached by an old college friend who is the No. 2 editor at Outside. He suggested that I write the definitive George Gibney feature article for his publication. “Let’s go win a National Magazine Award,” he said. This editor told me he had served as a panelist for the award in the past. Again — the solicitation was from him to me, not the other way around.
Over the course of three months, and with the editor’s guidance, I wrote, then rewrote, then re-rewrote, a story pitch. It was a verbal beatdown of little journalistic acuity. But it did have all the trappings of a Hollywood scenarist vying for studio funding.
At long last, my friend the No. 2 editor came back with word from his boss, the No. 1 editor: Outside would be thrilled to have me write a few hundred words about this little brouhaha for the magazine’s website. Then, perhaps, somewhere down the road, a print feature when … when … when …
Saying anything further about all this would be redundant and petulant. The Gibney story is not about me.
Irish media counterparts have been a different kettle of fish. They know who George Gibney is, of course, and they episodically obsess over how he was “the one who got away,” while other prominent Irish swimming coaches of his generation went to prison for less (Derry O’Rourke, Ger Doyle), and one for perhaps more (Frank McCann — he murdered his wife and their baby daughter, by burning down their house with them in it, to prevent them from learning that he had raped and impregnated one of his young swimmers).
The Irish media are also hamstrung by the lack of a First Amendment and an accompanying tradition of chilling defamation laws. And like the public at large, they are often uniquely fatigued and paralyzed by the agonizing unspooling of the historical legacies of sexual abuses at many institutions — especially but not only the Catholic Church. Such conditions also obtain elsewhere (and we can add to this list of limitations such items as shame, inadequate protections for victim-witnesses, and all the other generic impediments to having a healthy conversation about abuse). But in Ireland they are made more pronounced by the country’s small size and culture of cronyism.
In 2016 the feisty online site Broadsheet connected the dots of the nexus between Irish cronyism and the 1994 Supreme Court decision that sprang Gibney, in the lengthy timeline article “The Chief Justice, Her Brother, And How George Gibney Got Away,” https://www.broadsheet.ie/2016/04/29/the-chief-justice-her-brother-and-how-george-gibney-got-away/.
In 2015 Paul Kimmage, a columnist for the Irish Sunday Independent, did a very nice piece about my work, for which I am grateful. See https://www.independent.ie/sport/other-sports/paul-kimmage-awful-truth-is-hidden-in-plain-sight-31505278.html.
Otherwise, coverage of the FOIA and its fallout has been spotty at best. Perhaps the oddest example was a 2018 takeout by Johnny Watterson, the fine columnist for the Irish Times who had been one of the earliest and best reporters of the 1990s scandals there. Watterson’s 2,000-plus-word piece summed up that “Muchnick exhausted his efforts in the US courts to have [Gibney] deported.” Worse than “burying the lede,” this amounted to turning it on its head, since my case was for public information, and the upshot of its successful release was far from “exhaustion” — it was a timely and purposeful U.S. government reexamination of Gibney.
What Watterson (or his editors) somehow found most important to elucidate at length was not the cautiously optimistic note struck by Ireland’s deputy prime minister, Simon Coveney, on the floor of the national assembly. Nor was it the fact that the FOIA and Judge Breyer’s powerful observation, “We’re not a refuge for pedophiles,” had been responsible for unleashing hitherto dormant federal agents for the best chance in many years to get Gibney. Driving the story, instead, were the somewhat understandably cynical predictions of certain Gibney abuse survivors that the whole affair would add up, yet again, to dashed hopes and failure.
With friends of justice like these, who needs enemies?
Justine McCarthy, author of the seminal book Deep Deception: Ireland’s Swimming Scandals, is now a columnist for the Irish edition of London’s Sunday Times. There, she has advanced the scholarship of my findings incrementally and fitfully. McCarthy’s most valuable new contribution during my FOIA fight was a story about how Gibney apparently had emigrated to America through a Donnelly diversity lottery visa. This program, leveraged by Irish-American politicians, had set aside disproportionate slots for Irish aspirants in the early 1990s. Soon, the FOIA settlement would confirm the essence of McCarthy’s account.
When I passed through Dublin last July to promote my ebook — travel generously underwritten by Broadsheet — McCarthy didn’t have the courtesy to so much as meet me for coffee.
I was honored, however, to have an audience at the Oireachtas (legislature) with Maureen O’Sullivan, the independent assemblywoman from the Dublin Central district who had revived the latest iteration of the Gibney extradition campaign at around the same time I began my investigative series in 2015. After our lunch meeting, O’Sullivan and I did a joint video interview for the Newstalk network’s Off the Ball. The 12-minute segment is viewable at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbNhNLKMOjQ.
(O’Sullivan stood down prior to this weekend’s Irish elections, after 11 years in her seat in the Dáil Éireann. She has had a long and distinguished career in the political circles of the legendary late politician Tony Gregory.)
Also on my brief Irish tour, I spent valuable time with Gary O’Toole, the former Irish swimming great, now a prominent orthopedic surgeon, who after learning in 1990 of Gibney’s abuse of swimmer Francis “Chalkie” White, had taken the historically vital and catalyzing step of helping to organize victims and press the then Irish Amateur Swimming Association for reforms and justice.
Lastly, I saw Gibney abuse survivor Loraine Kennedy — who also was the sister of Chalkie White. I now can reveal the name of this grand lady because she tragically passed away in October, after having been diagnosed with advanced cancer just weeks subsequent to our meeting. Loraine shared with me a new Gibney anecdote that made my skin crawl, and would yours.
BBC/Second Captains flirtation
As I understand the Irish media landscape, the two most popular sports podcasts are Off the Ball and Second Captains. The lion’s share of my own media shots there have been on Off the Ball.
In 2018 I was booked for an interview on a Second Captains segment about Gibney. I was canceled the day before. The explanation given was that I had been on Off the Ball a couple of days earlier, and such crossover is disqualifying. Whatever.
Later that year, the chief producer for Second Captains, Mark Horgan, emailed me, “I’ll be in touch regarding our series with the BBC next week, which has been in pre-production up until this point. It’s all confidential for now to ensure survivors hear about the plans from us before the general public does. We also need to keep any word of this away from GG.”
When next I heard from Second Captains, in January 2019, it was from another Horgan: Maria Horgan, Mark’s sister. She explained that she had been brought in as a coordinating producer for the BBC-funded Gibney documentary series, which she said was projected for ten parts. (Mark and Maria have three other siblings, and two of them are famous. Shane Horgan, a retired rugby star, is a sports commentator for RTÉ, the national television and radio network. Sharon Horgan is the actress, writer, comic, and producer who created HBO’s Divorce and the Amazon streaming hit Catastrophe.)
Before we get to the part where Concussion Inc. and Second Captains were at loggerheads, let me again say that I welcomed any and all higher-octane Gibney coverage. I was skeptical that a podcast, offering production values but constrained by the usual Anglo-Irish legal squeamishness, would do much more than recycle greatest hits. In 2006 an RTÉ TV investigative magazine show had tracked down Gibney getting into his car in Napa, California, where he then lived, and stuck a microphone in his face. A great “get,” the kind of dramatic content only TV and radio can pull off. But this didn’t advance the Gibney extradition campaign, a tangled web of behind-the-scenes bureaucratic maneuvering.
I also wondered: Did the Horgan production even know about the New York federal grand jury? And if so, did BBC/Second Captains have the will to go there and the analytic chops to explain it?
And in the common conundrum of an independent journalist whose work gets hogged by and credited to those higher up the media food chain — we freelancers have a term for this: “big-footing” — there was also the consideration that a Gibney indictment or extradition order could drop, with dumb luck, at the very moment of the premiere of Where Is George Gibney?
Thus, when it became apparent that Maria Horgan’s main goal in reaching out to me was to get me to hand over my Rolodex of sources and contacts, I demurred. Maria offered me $500 for an interview for the podcast; I still demurred. First, $500 was obviously micro-centimes to the dollar in return for my years of sweat equity, including long and costly litigation against the U.S. government. Second, I’ve found that taped interviews, subject to the self-serving edit of the producer, exacerbate rather than mitigate the problem of big-footing.
(Not that anyone is knocking down my door or anything, but I generally prefer live or “live to tape” interviews. I made an exception recently and did a sit-down interview with a crew for VICE TV’s series Dark Side of the Ring, which is about to air an episode about the 1983 death, in the late WWE star wrestler Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka’s Pennsylvania motel room, of his girlfriend Nancy Argentino.)
The Horgans then said they would dedicate one episode of the projected series to my work. Still leery of my lack of editorial control of the product, and suspecting they did not know the content and pace of the feds’ close on Gibney, I gave my definitive no.
Last spring my sources in Colorado told me that BBC/Second Captains were coming to town. In an amusing side note, a local researcher whom they’d hired asked me for help — evidently not aware that we’d gone our separate ways and I had made clear my disinterest in giving them more free samples.
For my money, one of the threshold factors determining whether the coming podcast series is valuable new journalism, or simply more hot air, involves how Where Is George Gibney? winds up handling an interview that I know they had set up with Lila Adams, a former detective with the police in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. In 2000, Adams (then named Lila Cohen) had written a report on her investigation of Gibney after his new employer there found out about his Irish past and informed on him.
Adams at first agreed to a phone interview with me, too. But she “postponed” it, and ultimately wiggled out of it altogether, once she realized that I would be asking pointed questions about why her report didn’t name the parish sponsoring Gibney’s “International Peru Eye Clinic Foundation,” and why there is no evidence that she even tried to find out.
To be continued
The U.S. government is serious about getting Gibney — or at least some people there are. The bottom line may be that more voices are needed before the serious forces in the American legal bureaucracy prevail.
BBC/Second Captains’ Where Is George Gibney? may prove to have significant fresh information, or it may prove to be applying, for the umpteenth time, broadcast production values to old information.
Regardless, if it turns out theirs is the voice that nudges deportation/extradition over the top, I’ll tip my hat.