by Irvin Muchnick
Next Monday a Florida Circuit Court will hear my case against the City of Fort Lauderdale under the state’s public records statute. Concussion Inc. is seeking relief for our claim that the city illegally suppressed files on human trafficker swimming coach Alex Pussieldi. We have asked Judge John B. Bowman to inspect the unredacted records privately, in chambers, in order to assist his ruling.
Whether the redacted information is critically important would depend on what it is. We don’t yet know that.
However, we do know that the 2004 complaint to USA Swimming, by Mexican swimmer Roberto Cabrera Paredes, was no pedestrian beef about the excesses of an authority figure. Pussieldi’s subsequent history demonstrates how broadly and deeply the case goes to his global connections in the sport of swimming, as brokered by USA Swimming board member and international consultant and potentate Dale Neuburger.
We also know that USA Swimming’s investigations of Pussieldi — both the one then and the one recently renewed as a result of our reporting — provide compelling evidence of the organization’s methods in covering up and reducing to the vanishing point the consequences for well-connected abusive coaches. There is no more powerful set of documents and facts in the generation-long plumbing operations directed by the now beleaguered Chuck Wielgus, chief executive of the national sport governing body since 1997.
In preparation for Monday’s hearing in Broward County, we review what was said by a former USA Swimming private investigator, Dirk Taitt, on June 14, 2011. Taitt was deposed that day by Jonathan Little, an attorney for abuse victims. We first reported this story on February 7 of this year under the headline “EXCLUSIVE: Florida Coach Stayed on Pool Deck Nine Years After USA Swimming Investigation of Battery Complaint Against Him Also Revealed Secret Videotapes of Boys Living With Him.”
In what Taitt called a piece of “dumb luck,” he had produced, in response to the subpoena for his deposition, a partial file — eight pages in all — of what he said was the only example of an investigative report for swimming still in his possession. (Taitt left that position around 2005. He now works for the Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League.) Little quizzed him about this incomplete, and heavily and tantalizingly redacted, document.
By agreement of lawyers on both sides, Taitt revealed the initials of the accused coach: “A.P.”
“Do you recall what the allegations were against him?” Little then asked. Here’s the ensuing exchange:
A. Alleged assault. Alleged assault and improper videotaping.
Q. Of swimmers?
A. Of this swimmer.
Q. And in kind of a private moment?
A. Apparently in a bathroom.
Q. Yeah. And this was all included in your report to swimming on this incident?
Elsewhere in the transcript, attorney Little notes, “This is news to me because swimming has represented to me that there haven’t been any videotaping cases prior to 2008…. This is the first time I’ve seen this and I asked for this three years ago — four years ago, almost.”
Chuck Wielgus and his henchpeople engaged in criminal cover-up in 2004 and again in perjurious court statements in the early part of this decade. The latter acts post-dated the new and allegedly enlightened era marked by the firestorm over investigations broadcast in 2010 by ABC and ESPN. And the Pussieldi cover-up … cover-ups, plural … continue at the local level and in USA Swimming to this day.
In short, Monday’s hearing in Florida is not a hodgepodge or a fishing expedition. It is a key marker on the path of holding Wielgus and others accountable, and for getting the Congress of the United States to remake our amateur sports system so that criminals like Wielgus can never again hold their multimillion-dollar patronage perches, at the expense of the interests and safety of youth athletes.