ABC News Investigation: USA Swimming Coaches Molested, Secretly Taped Dozens of Teen Swimmers
Olympic Governing Body Under Fire; 36 Swim Coaches Banned for Life Because of Sexual Misconduct with Teens
By MEGAN CHUCHMACH and AVNI PATEL
Apr. 9, 2010
In a sex abuse scandal that some victims compare to what happened in the Catholic Church, at least 36 swimming coaches have been banned for life by the USA Swimming organization over the last 10 years because of sexual misconduct.
The coaches have molested, fondled and abused dozens of swimmers, according to court records and interviews conducted by ABC News for reports Friday on "World News with Diane Sawyer" and "20/20."
One coach, Brian Hindson of Kokomo, IN, secretly taped teenage girls he coached in two high school pool locker rooms, one in which he directed girls to a "special" shower room where he had a hidden camera inside a locker.
"It was a sense of betrayal," Indiana swimming star Brooke Taflinger told ABC News chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross for a report to be broadcast Friday on "20/20."
Taflinger's parents later identified Brooke for the FBI as one of the girls who was taped naked in the locker and shower area.
"I gotta tell you, it hurt," Brooke's father, Bruce Taflinger, told "20/20." "My wife only had to look at one picture before she turned away in tears," he said.
FBI agents became aware of the pictures after a North Carolina woman bought the coach's computer on E-Bay and discovered a video clip of a young girl in a locker room appearing to be taped without her knowledge. A subsequent search of Hindson's home turned up more locker room footage and a large selection of child pornography.
"This had gone on for nearly 10 years, without any detection whatsoever," Lt. Don Whitehead of the Kokomo, IN police department's cyber crime unit told ABC News.
Hindson was sentenced in 2008 to 33 years in federal prison. His attorney Gregg Stark did not return repeated requests for comment.
Still, another one of Hindson's victims, Sarah Rutkowski, now 21, said there are many questions left unanswered.
"I'd really like to know how he did it and where the videos have ended up, if they're on the internet or if he put them through Limewire or if they were just sitting around for his personal use," Rutkowski, who is believed to have been 12 or 13 when she was taped, told ABC News. "That's really disturbing to me, not knowing where those videos are."
Hindson is one of the 36 coaches banned for life for sexual misconduct over the last 10 years by USA Swimming, the governing body for the sport up to and including the U.S. Olympic team.
Ken Stopkotte, named Indiana High School Boys Swimming and Diving State Coach of the year for 2009, said the problem is pervasive and has been going on his entire 27 years in coaching.
"It's something that coaches talk about all the time," Stopkotte told ABC News.
The executive director of USA Swimming, Chuck Wielgus, acknowledged the problem, but said "It's "It's not nearly as serious in USA Swimming as it might be in the rest of society."
"I don't want to be the one to sit here and say 36 is not too many, one is too many, but this is not just a problem that's isolated to one sport," said Wielgus.
In some cases, the swimming coaches found to have been sexual predators were able to move from town to town, one step ahead of police and angry victims and their parents.
"We have a system that does not encourage the reporting," said Bob Allard, a San Jose, CA lawyer representing sex abuse victims suing USA Swimming.
A San Jose swimming coach, Andy King, 62, was sentenced to 40 years in prison in January after authorities discovered a pattern of sexual abuse that stretched over three decades up and down the West Coast and involved more than a dozen teen female victims.
"He was a monster," said Santa Clara County prosecutor Ray Mendoza. "He had almost every conceivable sex act," he said.
Mendoza said King would move out of town once parents or police began asking questions and was stopped only after a 14-year old girl in San Jose complained to her youth pastor.
King previously worked as a swim coach in the San Francisco Bay area and in Oak Harbor, WA, where he was regarded as an excellent coach for aspiring Olympic team swimmers.
"He may have been a good coach, but his goal with these girls ultimately was to molest them," said prosecutor Mendoza.
King's lawyer, Jamie Harley, said some of the responsibility belongs to the swimmers' parents whose ambition for their children blinded them to the problem.
"I think Mr. King bears enormous responsibility here, But I think the parents were not minding the store," she said. "I think had they been minding the store – had they been watching what's going on with their own children this opportunity never could have presented itself."
Background Checks for Swimming Coaches
In 2008, USA Swimming gave King a clean bill of health, saying his background screening had been approved.
"Congratulations," read the letter. "Your background screening has been thoroughly reviewed and meets the qualification standards set by USA Swimming."
According to USA Swimming, the organization only checks for criminal convictions and does not include background interviews or investigations with local police.
"It was willfully incomplete," said Bob Allard, a lawyer for families now suing USA Swimming. "A simple phone call to Oak Harbor, his prior stop, or to the East Bay would have revealed much about this man's propensity to abuse and molest kids."
Police later documented at least 15 victims among the teenage girl swimmers he coached over the years, including a woman who said she had an abortion after King got her pregnant at the age of 14.
"We want to have the gold standard and I think we do an awesome job," said USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus. "I don't think we're perfect.
Wielgus says the local swim clubs, not the national organization, bear the responsibility to check the full backgrounds of swimming coaches they hire.
He said the 36 coaches banned by the organization over the last ten years were only a tiny fraction of the organization's 12,000 coaches in that time period.
"Thirty six does seem like a whole lot. A hundred is even more. Five hundred is even more," he told correspondent Brian Ross.
Asked if he had apologized to any of the young teen victims, Wielgus responded, "You feel I need to apologize to them?"
He added, "I think it's unfair for you to ask me whether individually or me as the representative of an organization to apologize for something when all we are trying to do is everything we possibly can to create a safe and healthy environment for kids who are participating in our particular activity."