Did USA Swimming Lie About Telling Police the Allegations Against Coach Murray Stephens of Michael Phelps’ North Baltimore Aquatic Club?

Published October 8th, 2012, Uncategorized

In 2010 or 2011, the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, Michael Phelps’ flagship, kicked up to USA Swimming headquarters in Colorado Springs an accusation by a former swimmer than she had been sexually molested as a kid by her coach. We now know that the coach was Murray Stephens, who was elected to the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2010, and already had sold North Baltimore Aquatic, which he founded, to Phelps and his coach, Bob Bowman.

There are also reports, which I can’t yet confirm, that the alleged victim herself had direct contacts with USA Swimming headquarters. Whether she disclosed Stephens’ name either to the club or to the national organization is unclear. But we do know that in 2011 Stephens quietly resigned from the club altogether. And USA Swimming, according to a statement it released last week, “reported the complaint and information received to the Baltimore County Police Department, Precinct 1.”

USA Swimming added: “It is our policy to report any information regarding the sexual abuse of a minor to local authorities. Because child sexual abuse is a criminal act, we feel it is most important that it is referred to the police.”

However, the Baltimore Sun reported Saturday that Baltimore County police said it had no record of such a contact. In the version of the article now online at http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2012-10-06/news/bs-md-north-baltimore-aquatic-club-abuse-20121005_1_allegation-of-inappropriate-conduct-sexual-misconduct-aquatic-club-coach, the Sun appears to have replaced that explanation with the sentence, “It was unclear whether any charges have been filed in the alleged incident.”

Today Corporal Cathleen Batton of the Baltimore County Police 1st Precinct told me that Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger had been “unable to provide a date, location, or any specific information that would allow us to search our records database. She provided multiple names of alleged offenders, which we checked. No sex offense reports were located matching those names.”

I can confirm from my own conversation with Wenger on Friday that she had merely deduced a list of possible alleged perpetrators, of whom Murray Stephens was one. I followed up with the police department’s Batton to clarify that I was not necessarily looking for information formally filed as a sex offense, and that I was looking for a report specifically on Stephens in 2011 by USA Swimming or the North Baltimore Aquatic Club or both. Batton emailed back:

“The name Murray Stephens was checked in our database at the request of the Baltimore Sun. There are 2 entries from the 1990’s – he is listed as the victim or complainant of a theft in both cases.

“Without knowing the location of the alleged offense, the name of the victim or the person who filed complainant, or a specific date, we cannot confirm at this time that a report has been filed with our agency. A more extensive hand search will be required to determine if a report was filed due to the limited information provided.

“If you are able to provide any of the specifics that will expedite our search, please let me know. If a report is located, I will notify you.”

The Sun‘s Wenger told me, “I can assure you that I am using every available resourse to track down a police report.”

If it really wants to put to rest the question of whether it reported its known North Baltimore Swim Club abuse charge facts or suspicions, USA Swimming should come forth with additional documentation: records of its phone calls to the Baltimore County police, or the complaint or control number that police routinely give to citizens when they make such reports.

I emailed USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus, athlete protection officer Susan Woessner, and public relations director Karen Linhart requesting this further information. They have kept intact their perfect record of recent months in not responding to my messages.

The provocative question raised by the headline above is not an idle one. USA Swimming officials, under oath, have lied repeatedly to courts in civil sex crime lawsuits about numerous matters related to investigations of coach abuse cover-ups. Long-time board member Dale Neuburger said in a deposition, when asked about his contemporary collegiate swimmer Mitch Ivey, an all-time great, “I don’t know him.” Asked if the swimming board in 1993 discussed Ivey after he was bounced as women’s coach at the University of Florida following an ESPN investigation of his sexual predation of his athletes, Neuburger testified, “If Mr. Ivey was part of a television broadcast, I’m not aware of it.”

Executive director Wielgus said Andy King — subject of several documented complaints of sex abuse as a club coach dating back decades — was not “on the radar screen” until the late 2000s. King is now spending the rest of his life in a California prison for what is surely a slim minority of his serial acts of pedophilia.

Wielgus also contended in a deposition that Peeping Tom locker room video of disrobing swimmers was not “on the radar screen” prior to the celebrated busting of Phelps with a marijuana bong in 2008, thanks to video recorded on a cell phone while he was partying. A decade earlier, Pennsylvania coach John Trites, who is still on the lam for secretly recording his swimmers undressing, had been featured on the television program America’s Most Wanted, and USA Swimming had carried out an FBI instruction to alert all of its programs that Trites was on the loose.

In 2010, former gold medalist David Berkoff, now on the USA Swimming Board for the second time, said, “Denying knowledge of Rick Curl, Mitch Ivey and others banging their swimmers! It’s a flat out lie.” Berkoff also said, “Wow. Perjury is still a crime in California, correct?”

USA Swimming lie? No, not a chance.

Irv Muchnick