Former USA Olympic gymnastics coach John Geddert faces 24 felony charges

ByDan Murphy and John Barr via via logo
February 25, 2021, 2:39 PM

LANSING, Mich. -- Former Olympic gymnastics coach John Geddert physically, emotionally and sexually abused athletes, according to criminal charges filed in Michigan Thursday that could carry up to a life sentence for the gold-medal-winning coach who worked closely for decades with disgraced Team USA doctor Larry Nassar.

Geddert was charged with 24 felonies by Michigan state officials: 20 counts of human trafficking and forced labor, one count of first-degree sexual assault, one count of second-degree sexual assault, racketeering and lying to a police officer.

A lawyer from the Michigan attorney general's office also said Thursday that Geddert knew Nassar was sexually abusing his patients and lied to police about it during a 2016 investigation of Nassar. The remainder of the charges against Geddert are all tied to his own behavior with gymnasts he coached at gyms he owned in Michigan.

Law enforcement started investigating Geddert in February 2018 in the wake of complaints raised about his abusive coaching style during Nassar's sentencing hearing.

Court documents released Thursday allege that, among other things, Geddert in January 2012 digitally penetrated a girl who was between the ages of 13 and 16.

"John Geddert used force, fraud and coercion against the young athletes that came to him for gymnastics training for financial benefit to him," Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said during a Thursday afternoon news conference, during which the charges were announced.

"The victims suffer from disordered eating, including bulimia and anorexia, suicide attempts and self harm," Nessel said, adding that Geddert subjected his gymnasts to "excessive physical conditioning, repeatedly being forced to perform even while injured, extreme emotional abuse and physical abuse, including sexual assault."

Neither Geddert nor his attorney, Chris Bergstrom, responded to ESPN's request for comment Thursday.

Nessel said Geddert has turned himself into the Eaton County Sheriff's Department and that he was scheduled to be arraigned Thursday afternoon.

Geddert previously owned Twistars USA Gymnastics in Dimondale, Michigan, just outside of Lansing, where dozens of women say they were sexually assaulted by Nassar under the guise of medical treatment. Geddert and Nassar worked side-by-side for more than a quarter-century while both rose to the pinnacle of elite gymnastics.

Geddert, 63, has long been viewed within the gymnastics community as one of Nassar's chief enablers. As far back as the late 1980s, at Great Lakes Gymnastics Club in Lansing, before he was even a licensed physician, Nassar began sexually assaulting minor gymnasts on his training table, according to the accounts of multiple women.

Sarah Klein, one of Nassar's first known victims, told ESPN her abuse began when she was 8 years old and training at Great Lakes Gymnastics.

"We now know that dozens of promising young athletes had their lives ruined by Larry Nassar at John Geddert's gym. The survivors of this horrendous abuse can now look forward to Geddert being held criminally responsible for enabling the most prolific serial sexual abuser in the history of sport," Klein told ESPN on Thursday.

Nassar's sexual assaults of young gymnasts continued in the late 1990s and beyond at Geddert's Twistars USA Gymnastics Club, where Nassar treated gymnasts on Monday evenings in a back room near the start of the vault run.

That's where Lindsey Hull, formerly Lindsey Lemke, says Nassar sexually assaulted her hundreds of times.

Hull told ESPN on Thursday that the charges against Geddert are a relief and a "spark of light."

"It's another step of holding people accountable and getting justice for survivors," Hull said.

Through courtroom impact statements and interviews with ESPN, dozens of former gymnasts portrayed Geddert as a demanding coach who motivated his athletes with fear and intimidation, which often crossed a line into abuse.

Former gymnasts say Geddert berated gymnasts, made inappropriate sexual comments around them and jeopardized their health. Gymnasts said his demeanor provided an opportunity for Nassar to earn the trust of his victims by positioning himself as a "good cop" in an otherwise daunting training setting.

"John and Larry were like this perfect storm," said a former office manager of Geddert's at Twistars, Priscilla Kintigh, who was coached by Geddert at Great Lakes in the mid-1980s and whose son trained at Twistars. "You become so unapproachable that your own gymnasts don't feel comfortable telling you what's going on. There's no way any of the girls would have felt comfortable saying anything to John [about Larry]. Kids were terrified of him."

Added Klein: "John and Larry enabled each other to abuse. They both deserve to be held to account."

Geddert rose to national prominence in the early 2000s and was named the U.S. national team coach for the 2012 London Olympics. His role as a national coach led him to travel around the globe with America's top gymnasts. Many of those gymnasts, including all members of the famed Fierce Five who won gold in London, say Nassar abused them during their international trips.

Former Olympian McKayla Maroney says she was in a car with Geddert on one such international trip, in Tokyo during the 2011 World Championships. During the car ride Maroney gave a graphic description of how Nassar had touched her inappropriately during a treatment session the night before, according to multiple people, who overheard her remarks. Geddert didn't react at the time according to the accounts of the passengers in the car but has since denied overhearing Maroney's comments.

USA Gymnastics suspended Geddert during Nassar's sentencing hearing in January 2018 amid a flood of public complaints from former gymnasts, who described his abusive coaching style. Geddert announced he was retiring from coaching days after he was suspended by USA Gymnastics. He transferred ownership of Twistars USA to his wife and coaching partner in 2018. The gym was sold to new owners earlier this month.

Geddert is the fifth person to face criminal charges that stem from the Nassar case. Former USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny was arrested on evidence tampering charges in 2018. At Michigan State, where Nassar was employed, former president Lou Anna Simon, former medical school dean William Strampel and former gymnastics coach Kathie Klages were all charged with crimes. Strampel, Nassar's former boss, served eight months of a 1-year prison sentence before he was released last spring. Klages was found guilty of lying to police in August 2020 and sentenced to 90 days in jail. Charges against Simon were dismissed in May 2020, but the Attorney General's office is appealing that decision, Nessel said.

During Thursday's press conference, Nessel also called on Michigan State's board of trustees to release roughly 6,000 additional documents that she believes are needed to conclude the state's investigation into how others at the university handled accusations or knowledge of Nassar's sexual abuse. In addition to being the medical director for Team USA and a volunteer at Twistars, Nassar saw patients as an Osteopathic physician inside a clinic on the MSU campus. The school's board has so far declined to waive the attorney-client privilege that prevents Nessel's office from reviewing the documents.

"I find it unconscionable the university would stonewall the very investigation that it requested. Nonetheless that is where we find ourselves. MSU's refusal to comply with my request will leave me with no choice but to close this investigation in a manner that provides no real closure or justice to the people who deserve it," Nessel said.

Nassar, 57, is currently serving a 60-year prison sentence for child pornography charges at a federal prison near Orlando, Florida, but he also faces an additional maximum of up to 175 years in prison for his sentencings on state charges in Ingham and Eaton County Michigan. Earlier this month, Nassar appealed his case to the Michigan Supreme Court. Nessel said Thursday that Nassar's trial court sentence should stand, describing it as "a fair and just sentence."

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