This article adapts and expands on the one originally published in the Colorado Springs Gazette on February 27 under the headline “Podcasts stir new abuse allegations against former Irish Olympic swim coach in U.S.,” https://gazette.com/news/podcasts-stir-new-sex-abuse-allegations-against-former-irish-olympic-swim-coach-in-u-s/article_cb36afe6-7875-11eb-91dd-67e902c483a7.html.
by Irvin Muchnick
The American immigration and criminal status of a former Irish Olympic swimming head coach, who moved to the U.S. after being charged with dozens of instances of sexual assaults of athletes he coached — and whose odyssey in this country began in the Denver area more than a quarter of a century ago — has gained renewed attention in the wake of a popular podcast documentary.
The 10-part podcast series, Where Is George Gibney?, which started streaming last summer, led to the emergence, in both Ireland and the U.S., of up to 18 former swimmers with fresh allegations that he abused them, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation, the producer in association with Second Captains, an Irish media company. The BBC said the series, produced by Mark Horgan, has garnered more than two million worldwide listens.
In 2015, 21 years after a controversial Irish Supreme Court decision quashed Gibney’s original prosecution, the country’s director of public prosecutions had reopened an investigation of him at the behest of a now-retired Irish legislator, Maureen O’Sullivan, who campaigned for his extradition to face renewed criminal charges.
In 2018, O’Sullivan met in Washington with Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a leader monitoring the issue of sexual abuse in youth sports programs. Speier assumed the role when another California Democrat, George Miller, retired after investigating USA Swimming in his capacity as ranking member of the House Education and Workforce Committee. In 2014, Miller forwarded his findings to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Both the U.S. Department of Justice and the state prosecutor’s office in Hillsborough County, Florida, have interests in reexamining the permanent resident alien status of and sex crime allegations against Gibney, now 72 years old and living in Altamonte Springs, north of Orlando. The multitude of allegations includes one that, in 1991, he raped and impregnated a 17-year-old swimmer in Tampa during his Irish team’s training trip. The victim has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals ever since.
Additionally, the Gibney extradition campaign has intensified questions about the knowledge of his presence here by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s USA Swimming, especially during his brief tenure as a coach for a team in Colorado, and about whether the American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA), a professional group that specializes in troubleshooting coaches’ visas, helped arrange for Gibney’s move and first job in the U.S.
A federal investigation of Gibney is an offshoot of a reported federal grand jury probe of USA Swimming, by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, for insurance fraud, hiding of assets, and cover-up of abuse cases. Gibney’s own movements in North America, and perhaps South America as well 20 or more years ago, are being scrutinized by the Justice Department’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section (MLARS). Jane Khodarkovsky, a human trafficking finance specialist for MLARS, has not returned phone and email messages seeking comment.
Jonathan Little, an attorney who has represented dozens of plaintiffs in abuse claims against USA Swimming and other Olympic sports bodies, called Gibney “a monster” whose misconduct may exceed in scale that of Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics doctor who molested hundreds of athlete-patients. A recent report by the Justice Department’s inspector general criticized the FBI for botching solid information about Nassar’s crimes across a period of many years.
“George Gibney is the most prolific child molester in Olympic sports history, including Larry Nassar,” Little said. “Gibney raped children not only in Ireland but in the United States. The fact that Gibney is permitted to stay in the United States when his criminal history is so well known is baffling to me and it shows the true power of the Olympic movement. As citizens, we need to be asking: ‘Who in our government is allowing Gibney to stay here and why?’”
A cluster of Irish swim coach criminals
Gibney coached the Irish national team at two Summer Olympics: 1984 in Los Angeles and 1988 in Seoul. In 1993, Gibney, who also ran the competitive swimming program out of Newpark Comprehensive School in Blackrock, County Dublin, was indicted on 27 counts of indecent carnal knowledge of minors.
The root whistleblowers against Gibney, beginning in 1990, were Chalkie White, a swimmer and coach who said Gibney had begun molesting him at age 11, and Gary O’Toole, the country’s top Olympic swimmer of that period, now a prominent orthopedic surgeon. Though not an abuse victim himself, O’Toole helped organize swimmers who said they were abused by Gibney, and pressed their complaints both to the then Irish Amateur Swimming Association and to An Garda Síochána, the national police.
In 1994, Gibney was freed by a procedural ruling of the Irish Supreme Court, which held that the passage of time since the first of the charges against him would have prejudiced his right to a fair trial. The panel for this decision, whose scholarship has been successfully challenged in recent years in some claims by historical abuse victims in other realms, included Justice Susan Denham, later the chief justice. Denham’s brother, Patrick Gageby, had argued the case as Gibney’s lawyer. At the time, there was no substantial media coverage of the small and insular Irish legal system and the question of whether Denham should have recused herself.
In 1998, the Irish government commissioned an inquiry, headed by Roderick Murphy, a judge, to examine widespread abuses in youth swimming in that era. The scandal led to the conviction and imprisonment of three of Gibney’s coaching colleagues.
One of them, Frank McCann, now awaits parole from a sentence for murdering his wife and their baby, by burning down their house, as he attempted to conceal having raped and impregnated a teen swimmer with special needs.
Another coach, Ger Doyle, who was convicted and imprisoned several years after publication of the report, committed suicide last year on the virtual eve of the BBC podcast. The podcast did not mention Doyle or his association with Gibney.
The Murphy report concluded that accusers of Gibney himself “were vindicated” by the evidence assembled by the Garda. In the wake of the report, the Irish Amateur Swimming Association was dissolved and replaced by a governance body with a new name, Swim Ireland, whose directors and leaders would include many of the same figures from the former group.
“The Irish state’s failure to appeal the High Court’s decision to stop Gibney’s prosecution and its subsequent failure to seek his extradition back from the U.S. to face a new trial proved devastating for many of his victims,” said Justine McCarthy, a columnist for the Sunday Times of London and author of the book Deep Deception: Ireland’s Swimming Scandals. “His continuing freedom in Florida is in stark contrast to how some of their lives have remained frozen in time.”
A mysterious Colorado interlude
By the time the Murphy report was published, Gibney was in his fourth full year as an expatriate. He first took a coaching post in Scotland, before a revolt by many of the team’s parents sent him into trans-Atlantic exile in Colorado. In 1995, he had a short stint with an age-group team, North Jeffco, out of the Apex Recreation Center in Arvada, a Denver suburb.
In response to queries, the team has said the Gibney stint occurred prior to the current administration and coaches. “The current coaching staff and board of directors have no first-hand knowledge of Mr. Gibney or what his situation may or may not have been back then,” Carmen Babcock, one of the coaches of the North Jeffco Hurricanes, said in a 2015 email.
Linda M. Glesne, a lawyer for the North Jeffco Metropolitan Recreation District, which oversees the Apex Center, emailed that while Gibney “apparently had a brief employment relationship,” an archival search turned up no information on him. Likewise, Glesne said, she could find no files referencing “an additional individual you mention named Ken Kelly.”
In fact, Ken Kelley, so spelled, was a long-time and revered swim coach at the center and may have been the person who hired Gibney. When Kelley died in 2016, the Apex newsletter published a lengthy memorial appreciation.
The team did not respond to more recent requests for comment.
Reports by two suburban Denver police departments — Arvada in 1995 and Wheat Ridge in 2000 — as well as records first released by the federal government in 2016 during a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit for disclosure of Gibney’s immigration records, shed more light on Gibney’s five-plus years in Colorado.
Around October of 1995, Gibney left the North Jeffco team either just before or just after the Arvada police report, which had been spurred by an allegation of misconduct. The accusation led people in the community to look up documentation on the Internet of Gibney’s Irish past.
Citing a bar to exposure of a “report of child abuse” under the Colorado Children’s Code, the city of Arvada declined to release their Gibney report in response to a state Open Records Act request. Yet Edward Brady, then Arvada’s acting police chief, said in a statement that the report “was not triggered by a complaint; it was triggered by a citizen who became aware of Mr. Gibney’s background in Ireland and made the APD aware of it.”
In a statement summary substituting for release of the primary-source document, the Arvada police did acknowledge that they “learned of an alleged incident involving a local swimmer who was a juvenile, under 18,” during which Gibney either “pinched” the swimmer or “snapped the swimmer’s swimsuit.” But “the APD was unable to establish that any crime had occurred,” the statement continued. “At about the same time, the APD learned that Gibney was no longer employed in Arvada. [We] confirmed that he had been charged with child sexual abuse in Ireland, but not convicted.”
The police said the 1995 report, authored by a now-retired detective, Jo Ann Rzeppa, “documents an extensive investigation during which she did contact law enforcement officials in Ireland. She also spoke with at least one Irish investigative reporter about what happened in Ireland, and reviewed information sent to her by that reporter. Detective Rzeppa also did, in fact, go to the office of Immigration and Naturalization Service in Aurora and speak with an INS investigator. This investigator informed her that unless Mr. Gibney had been convicted of crimes ‘involving moral turpitude’ prior to his entry and had not disclosed them on his application, Mr. Gibney was probably not in violation of INS laws.”
The Irish journalist who spoke to the Arvada police at the time was Johnny Watterson, who had broken the first stories of Gibney allegations for the now-defunct Irish Sunday Tribune. He is now a sports columnist for the Irish Times. Watterson joined multiple American sources in observing to this reporter that Arvada police officers were believed to have had children on the North Jeffco team, potentially compromising the police report on Gibney.
One of the other sources, Evin Daly, is an Irish native who heads an anti-abuse advocacy organization, One Child International, headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The group’s publication on the Internet of Irish media articles and other information about Gibney promoted the earliest American public, and possibly also U.S. government, awareness of his criminal history.
Arvada police rejected criticism of their report. “Detective Rzeppa’s investigation was not unethical, nor did it violate any department rule, procedure or applicable law. Any implication otherwise is simply false,” the department said in a statement. Although the question of whether Rzeppa herself has children “is irrelevant,” the statement added, “she was divorced at the time of her investigation; she does not have any children.”
With his swim coaching career over, Gibney worked in Colorado as a corporate human resources specialist into the early 2000s. One of his employers was Coors Brewing.
In 2000, Gibney was hired by a small business in Wheat Ridge that contracts HR and accounting services temps. Shortly after he transitioned from a part-time to a full-time employee, the owner of the business read online about his past sex crime charges. She fired Gibney and turned over to the Wheat Ridge police the curriculum vitae he had submitted to her, along with other information.
As it turned out, the Wheat Ridge police had already been involved in another report about Gibney around February 21, 1998. Numbered 98-3718 and titled as an “Assist” to another department, this report was destroyed at the five-year mark, in 2003, under the state records retention protocols of the time. Wheat Ridge did not transition to computer records until 2000.
The October 2000 report that survives was written by Detective Lila Cohen under the supervision of Commander Dave Pickett. The report reviewed the informant’s concern that Gibney was part of a “pedophile ring” and attached his resume, which showed prominent volunteer positions with youth-serving organizations. The informant “said Gibney works with children in his parish and is a volunteer in Golden at a Youth Detention Center…. She said she thought Gibney was the director of an Advisory Board for the Youth Department of Corrections. She said he is also the Chairman of the International Peru Eye Clinic Foundation.”
Detective Cohen went on to note that she confirmed Gibney was on the board of the Metropolitan State College Lab School at Lookout Mountain. Cohen added that she “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.”
Cohen left the police and is now a child therapist in the area. She has said she had found no evidence of new sexual abuse involving Gibney during her investigation. She said her superiors at the department told her to move on to other cases due to limited resources.
Though the report documented tracking down Gibney’s colleagues on the lab school board, there is no evidence that Wheat Ridge police made a parallel effort to flesh out the Peru children’s eye clinic information. It is not known whether the detective did make such an effort and simply didn’t reflect it in the report, or whether she didn’t make the effort, and if so, what the reason was.
In 2019, this reporter arranged a telephone interview with the former Detective Cohen, now named Lila Adams. The purpose was to explore the discrepancies of the 2000 report. Adams canceled the interview at the last minute.
A spokesperson for the BBC, Colette Baillie, said the Where Is George Gibney? podcast crew interviewed both Adams and her supervisor, Commander Pickett, for the episode focusing on Gibney’s time in Colorado. The podcast producers would not answer the questions of why the episode used no audio from these interviews and whether the Wheat Ridge police were asked about the discrepancies in their report.
According to the police informant, Gibney did indeed travel to Peru with a church group. “I remember George being so excited before the trip — so he could help the ‘wee ones’,” the source told the Gazette. “I remember that he didn’t talk much about it upon his return. When anyone asked how the trip was, he responded to everyone that it was great and busy with work.”
In an attempt to identify the Greater Denver parish that sponsored the Peru trip and to locate archival records from it, the Gazette contacted Catholic Relief Services, the Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Archdiocese of Denver. All three institutions said independent parish foreign missions were not in their purview and they had no information on Gibney and Peru.
In a canvass of the 140 parishes of the archdiocese, a monsignor at one church came forward to say that a Peruvian medical mission could have fallen under the auspices of a controversial Peruvian Catholic sect named Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (“Fellowship of Christian Life”). A one-time volunteer for the Denver chapter of the Marian Community of Reconciliation, a female humanitarian affiliate of the Sodalitium, echoed this theory.
The Sodalitium’s disgraced founder, Luis Fernando Figari, now lives in seclusion in Rome and was written out of the group’s official history following lawsuits and confirmed reports — including in an independent investigation conducted on behalf of the sect by a former FBI agent — surrounding its founding leaders’ instances of sexual and physical abuse and kidnapping.
The Sodalitium’s Denver area parish, Holy Name in Sheridan, did not open until 2003. But two former archbishops of Denver, James Francis Stafford and Charles J. Chaput, courted the sect for a number of years before then.
The pastor of Holy Name is Father Daniel Cardó, a native Peruvian. He said in an email: “I am sure there have been many missions to Peru and other places throughout the years, organized by different people or groups, but I have no documentation, nor know of anyone who might have that information. I am not aware of unpleasant allegations at a local level. At a global level, I know generally what has been said but have no more information about it.”
“We’re not a refuge for pedophiles”
The Arvada police report was correct that Gibney did not lie on his visa application. In 2016, the federal government released a trove of documents, many in greatly redacted form, during the FOIA litigation. Gibney told the truth in his visa application about never having been charged with a crime. This was because he had secured the application prior to his indictment in Ireland in 1993.
The FOIA documents included a “Certificate of Character,” dated January 20, 1992, from the Garda precinct at Dublin’s Phoenix Park. It verified Gibney’s clean bill of health.
If Gibney had to renew his green card, typically at the 10-year mark, he would not have had to address his criminal indictment: the renewal application form does not ask for such information, nor even to swear to a reaffirmation of the original application’s representations.
But an application for naturalized citizenship is different. Gibney filed such an application in 2010. Lawyers and immigration experts speculate that Gibney might have calculated that citizenship would inoculate him, once and for all, from new iterations of campaigns for his arrest and extradition. But when he represented on the application that he had never been either convicted or charged with a crime, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services bounced it. One Child International’s Daly had fed the federal bureaucracy the details of Gibney’s background.
All this was revealed by documents in the FOIA case. U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer expressed consternation.
“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 [the earlier] visa,” Breyer said from the bench in open court. “We’re not a refuge for pedophiles.”
At the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017, the government settled its appeal of the judge’s FOIA ruling against it by making two last disclosures. The first was that Gibney’s visa had been a diversity lottery visa. The year of its issuance makes it most likely that it was a so-called Morrison visa, named for its sponsor, Congressman Bruce Morrison. The Morrison program, from 1992 to 1994, was the largest of several diversity lotteries in decades past, engineered by Irish-American politicians, that set aside disproportionately large numbers of slots for immigrants from Ireland.
The second government disclosure in the settlement was a July 20, 2010, advisory letter from the Homeland Security agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE said that, notwithstanding having entered the country with a record of a sex crime indictment and having illegally withheld that information on his failed citizenship application — with the illegal withholding seemingly the very reason the application was rejected — George Gibney had “no criminal convictions” and hence did “not meet the current case criteria” to “render him removable from the U.S.”
After the FOIA case, FBI agents began investigating Gibney’s chairmanship of the International Peru Eye Clinic Foundation, according to two people familiar with the investigation.
USA Swimming and ASCA
Gibney coached for a USA Swimming club more than a decade before the organization instituted criminal background checks in 2006.
In 2010, Chuck Wielgus, the long-time chief executive of the group, who died in 2017, was asked during a deposition in a civil lawsuit by a victim of coach sexual abuse whether the name George Gibney “rang a bell.” Wielgus said it did not.
“Sounds like a — sounds like an Irish — is he an Irish coach?” Wielgus said. “Yeah, I think I’ve heard the name.”
In 2010, USA Swimming began publishing a list of banned coaches. Today the list totals nearly 200 names.
George Gibney’s is not one of them. USA Swimming sources say that, rather, he is probably on a secret “flagged” list of coaches who have amassed records as bad actors, and are either not active in the organization or not from the U.S.
A spokeswoman for USA Swimming said that Gibney was a member of USA Swimming for one year, from 1995 to 1996.
“Prior to 2013, USA Swimming’s rule prohibited sexual misconduct by a member,” said the spokeswoman, Isabelle McLemore. “The rule was then changed in 2013 to sexual misconduct at any time — past or present. Unfortunately, given Mr. Gibney has not been a member since 1996, he has never been subject to the updated rule.”
McLemore said USA Swimming has turned everything it has heard about Gibney over to the U.S. Center for Safe Sport, the nonprofit agency set up to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct and other potential offenses at Olympic affiliated national or local clubs. In 2018, O’Sullivan, the Irish legislator, asked the center to investigate Gibney.
In 2010, the same year chief executive Wielgus was asked about Gibney in a deposition, Hall of Fame swimmer David Berkoff, then a new USA Swimming vice president who had been elected on a reform platform, made a presentation to the board about the sport’s universe of notorious figures. Gibney was part of Berkoff’s document in the section headed “Persons associated with swimming arrested for, charged with, or convicted of a crime involving sexual misconduct, but not banned by USAS.”
The Gibney entry was headlined, “NOT BANNED, ON THE RUN.”
In his published decision in the FOIA case, Judge Breyer fueled speculation that the American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA), as he put it, had “greased the wheels for Gibney’s relocation.”
Much of the speculation centers on a reference letter in the immigration file. It is almost entirely redacted. There is no name of the sender or even a date — just the words: “Dear George, [REDACTED] would be very interested in your services as coach to there [sic] team.”
Many critics of swimming’s safeguards for the protection of youth athletes, such as attorney Little, regard John Leonard, ASCA’s long-time executive director, as one of the most resistant voices against reforms in the area of sexual abuse. ASCA has protected notorious coaches who would eventually land on USA Swimming’s banned list, such as Mitch Ivey and Dustin Perry, and helped them find work in the aquatics industry in new locales and roles. The organization promotes to its membership the services of a law firm to facilitate visa applications.
Leonard retired last year. In a 2012 email to this reporter, he said: “ASCA is a voluntary membership organization. We have no investigatory powers, funds, or responsibility. USA Swimming is required membership for anyone who coaches a USA Swimming team. They have ‘control power’ over who can coach in their organization. We do not have an organization that deals directly with children, nor is that part of our purpose in any way, shape or form, according to our formative documents from 1958 and thereafter.”
Gibney had a past close relationship with an executive at the ASCA back in the early 1990s, when Gibney was plotting his move to the United States. The ASCA official, Peter Banks, had been an assistant under Gibney for the Trojans swim team at the Newpark school in County Dublin.
Banks moved to Florida, became a U.S. citizen, and developed Olympic star Brooke Bennett. He was a member of the American coaching staff for the 2000 Sydney Games. For a time, Banks returned to his native country as the high performance director of Swim Ireland. He has moved back to Florida.
Banks did not respond to the Gazette’s emails. But the BBC podcast’s Horgan tracked down Banks in Tampa. In an interview for the podcast, Banks didn’t admit to having brokered a job offer letter for Gibney nearly 30 years ago, but he didn’t deny it, either. Banks said, “I don’t remember.”
In a 2012 deposition in a lawsuit by a sexual abuse victim, ASCA’s Leonard was asked, “Did Mr. Banks, to your knowledge, ever write a letter of support for George Gibney?” Leonard answered, “Not to my knowledge.” Leonard also said: “When the George Gibney information hits the newspapers, I called Peter and said, ‘Peter, did you ever write a letter of support on this guy,’ and Peter said, ‘No.’”
Where things stand
In December 2017, following the release of Gibney documents in the FOIA case, Maureen O’Sullivan, the Irish legislator, pressed Simon Coveney, then the deputy prime minister and foreign minister, on the floor of Ireland’s parliamentary chamber, Dail Eireann.
Coveney said of the new Gibney information: “We will note that with interest and act on it if we can but I am conscious that this may be a subject of a future legal action.”
More recently, as numerous new Gibney accusers have come forward as a result of the BBC podcast series, the Garda issued statements welcoming new evidence from the public and promising that it will be explored.
Prior to the start of the podcast, an entirely separate complainant told a detective sergeant of the Protective Services Bureau that Gibney had molested her at age 11, in 1981, during a private swimming lesson at the pool of a Dublin hotel. The incident was assigned an active investigation file.