USA Swimming Coach Pleads No Contest to Having Sex with Underage Swimmer

Two more swim coaches face sexual misonduct charges.

April 23, 2010— -- A USA Swimming coach pleaded no contest today to having sex with one of his underage star swimmers, the latest case of sexual misconduct by coaches that is rocking the swim world.

Jesse Stovall, 37, was sentenced in an Orlando, FL courtroom to four years probation on a second degree felony charge of sexual activity with a 16 or 17 year-old and will be required to register permanently as a sex offender.

"He was using his status as her coach to groom her for a relationship that was clearly outside that of a coach/athlete," prosecutor Ryan Vescio told ABC News.

A recent ABC News "20/20" investigation revealed that some 36 coaches have been banned for life by USA Swimming over the last decade because of alleged sexual misconduct. USA Swimming said Stovall has been banned for life from coaching since the incident.

WATCH PART 1 of the 20/20 investigation.

WATCH PART 2 of the 20/20 investigation.

The crime occurred when Stovall, then a coach for the Berkeley, CA Bear Swimming team, took the 16-year-old swimmer to Orlando for a week-long swim meet in March 2008.

"He provided her alcohol and then sexually battered her" in the hotel, according to the police report, including oral sex and penetration.

The victim "described how she laid in bed and cried and then explained how she felt "confused,"" the report states. She told authorities that in the week leading up to the incident, Stovall would massage her and "rub her legs and back both above and under her clothes."

Stovall "obviously used his trust with the victim to do something illegal and used his trust with the family to help facilitate that," Vescio said.

According to the police report, while the girl's parents usually accompanied her to out of town meets, "Stovall convinced her parents to let her go alone, using the argument that [the girl] could use the opportunity to mature."

"It was very apparent that [Stovall] tried to form a relationship with the victim over a period of years," Vescio said. "He gave her special focus during practices and then convinced her parents to not travel to Orlando."

Had he not accepted the plea agreement, Stovall could have faced up to 90 years in prison on three first degree felony charges for sexual activity with a child and three second degree felony charges for sexual activity with a 16 or 17 year-old.

Vescio said the victim and her family did not want Stovall to go to prison, instead supporting the plea agreement so that she could focus on her new swimming career in college.

"She just wanted to move on to a new chapter in her life," Vescio said. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Stovall can use a computer but can't use it to visit pornographic sites, research the victim or any of her swim meets, or contact her through social media sites.

His attorney Kelly Bryan Sims said the plea "puts everything to rest" and "hopefully everybody will move on."


Chris Wheat

Another USA Swimming coach Chris Wheat, 36, is due to appear in court next month in Indiana on sexual misconduct charges. Wheat, who coached the Lawrence Swim Team in Indianapolis, is alleged to have had a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old swimmer he coached. He was arrested in October on charges of sexual misconduct and child solicitation and has pleaded not guilty.

Wheat's attorney did not immediately respond to request for comment on the case.

Jason Lear

In another case, authorities in Kissimmee, FL have accused a local swim coach of performing sex acts on a 12-year-old girl he coached. At the time, the coach, Jason Lear, was working at a local USA Swimming member club in St. Cloud, FL. Lear is set to go to trial next month on charges of sexual battery and lewd or lascivious molestation.

Neither Lear or his attorney could not be reached for comment. Lear reportedly told detectives that had not had any unsupervised contact with swimmers. He has pleaded not guilty.

A spokeswoman for USA Swimming said both Wheat and Lear have been suspended for life.

Earlier this week, USA Swimming announced it is immediately implementing a 7-Point Action Plan to protect its hundreds of thousands of youth swimmers across the country.

In an open letter, USA Swimming President Jim Wood and USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus said the organization will develop new guidelines for acceptable behavior by coaches, enhance the reporting system for sexual abuse to both the organization and law enforcement, review its Code of Conduct, examine its background screening program, talk to member clubs about pre-employment screening, evaluate sharing coaching history records with swimming clubs and other youth organizations, and educate swimmers, parents, coaches and swimming club leaders.


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