Podcasts stir new sex abuse allegations against former Irish Olympic swim coach in U.S.

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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 assault 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.

George Gibney

There is renewed interest in George Gibney, a former Irish Olympic swimming head coach, who moved to Colorado as accusations grew that he sexually abused dozens of athletes he coached in Ireland.

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, Fla., 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.

Additionally, the Gibney extradition campaign has raised questions about the knowledge of his presence here by the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Colorado Springs-based USA Swimming, especially during his brief tenure as a coach for a team in Colorado, and about whether the American Swimming Coaches Association, a professional group that specializes in troubleshooting coaches’ visas, helped arrange for Gibney’s move and first job in the U.S.

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.

“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?’”

Irish swim coach criminals

Gibney coached the Irish national team at the 1984 and 1988 Summer Olympics. 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 original 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 included Justice Susan Denham, later the chief justice. Denham’s brother, Patrick Gageby, had argued the case as Gibney’s lawyer.

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, will soon be paroled 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. “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.

The team  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 an email in 2015.

Linda M. Glesne, a lawyer for the North Jeffco Metropolitan Recreation, which oversees the Apex Center, emailed that while Gibney “apparently had a brief employment relationship,” an archival search turned up no information on him.

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 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 Arvada police declined to release their Gibney report in response to an Open Records Act request. In a 2018 statement by Edward Brady, then the Arvada acting chief, 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.”

However, in a statement summary substituting for release of the primary-source document, the Arvada police said 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. 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 department said that the ‘95 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 journalist who spoke to the Arvada police at the time was Johnny Watterson, who had broken the story of the Gibney allegations in Ireland for the now-defunct Irish Sunday Tribune. Today he is a sports columnist for the Irish Times. Rzeppa couldn’t be reached for comment.

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, however, 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, and other information.

As it turned out, the Wheat Ridge police had already been involved in another report about Gibney in February, 1998. This report was destroyed at the five-year mark, in 2003, under state records retention protocols. 

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 Gibney’s 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.” The informant said Gibney also was chairman of the International Peru Eye Clinic Foundation, and the detective noted in her report that she was concerned that he “may travel with children in his parish to Peru.”

Cohen left the police department and is now a child therapist in the area. Last year, she 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.

In an attempt to identify the metro 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 said independent parish foreign missions were not in their purview and they had no information on Gibney and Peru.

“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. That 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 a 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, or even to swear an affirmation of statements on the original application.

An application for naturalized citizenship is different, however. In 2010, Gibney sought to become a U.S. citizen, generating dismay among anti-abuse activists and his neighbors in Orange City, Fla., where he then lived.

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 a visa,” Breyer said at the final hearing. “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 ruling against it with 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 greatly favored immigrants from Ireland.

The second government disclosure in the settlement was a July 20, 2010, advisory letter from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE said that, notwithstanding having entered the country with a record of a sex crime indictment and illegally withholding that information on his failed citizenship application — with the illegal withholding being the 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.

 The American Swimming Coaches Association

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. As this article was being prepared, the list totaled 186 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.”

She said USA Swimming has turned everything it has heard about Gibney over to the U.S. Center for Safe Sport, the nonprofit center set up to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct and other potential offenses at Olympic affiliated national, state or local clubs.

The same year that Wielgus was deposed, Hall of Fame backstroker David Berkoff, then a newly elected USA Swimming vice president 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: “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, as he put it, had “greased the wheels for Gibney’s relocation.”

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. Gibney and that ASCA executive, Peter Banks, had coached together back in Ireland. Banks had been an assistant under Gibney for the Trojans swim team at the Newpark school in County Dublin.

Banks had moved to Florida, and had become a U.S. citizen, and had gone on to develop Olympic star Brooke Bennett. He was a member of the American coaching staff for the 2000 Sydney Games. For a time, he returned to his native country as the high performance director of Swim Ireland, as the national sports governance is now known. He has moved back to Florida.

Banks did not respond to The Gazette’s emails. But the BBC podcast’s Horgan did track him down in Tampa . Banks didn’t acknowledge that he 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, John Leonard, then the executive director of the ASCA, 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, then still an Irish legislator, pressed for extradition. She engaged Simon Coveney, then the deputy prime minister and foreign minister, on the floor of Ireland’s parliamentary chamber, Dail Eierann.

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.

USA Swimming is currently the target of a federal grand jury investigation in the Southern District of New York, for alleged insurance fraud, hiding of assets, and abuse cover-ups, according to the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers. According to an individual close to the grand jury, a probe of Gibney is an offshoot of the grand jury’s inquiry.

According to the person familiar with the grand jury’s activities, federal agents investigating Gibney’s travel for the Denver area church medical mission were being coordinated by Jane Khodarkovsky, human trafficking finance specialist at the Justice Department’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section. Khodarkovsky did not return phone and email messages seeking comment.

Irvin Muchnick is a journalist and author in Berkeley, California.