George Miller, a United States congressman representing California’s 11th congressional district, has written a letter to FBI requesting “closer scrutiny” over what he terms “alarming allegations and high-profile reports of sexual abuse.”
Miller is a former chairman of, and the current senior Democratic member of, the Committee on Education and Labor. The 40-year veteran took office in the 1970’s on the platform of transparency in his campaign: a cry that rung loudly for a group of young Congressmen shortly after the Nixon Watergate scandal.
He has announced the end of his career at the end of the current two-year term, which expires at the end of 2014, but he has decided to address what he perceives to be an issue within the sport of swimming before he retires.
“I write today to respectfully request that you fully investigate USA Swimming’s handling of both past and present cases of child sexual abuse,” Miller started his letter to FBI Director James B. Comey, dated July 9th, 2014.
Miller’s letter says that he and his staff have conducted interviews of their own, including victims of sexual abuse, attorneys, former USA Swimming officials, and “a USA Swimming-commissioned expert who has been conducting an independent evaluation of USA Swimming’s Safe Sport program,” most likely Victor Vieth.
Among the cases Miller cited as requiring more scrutiny is in the case of one coach who he says signed a settlement agreement with USA Swimming accepting a lifetime ban in exchange for USA Swimming forgoing any further investigation of allegations of child sexual abuse against him.
Miller also addresses several cases where he feels that “direct actionable information” was brought to USA Swimming officials in cases of some coaches, but no action was taken for long after. One specific case he cites is that of Mitch Ivey, who was banned in November of 2013 two decades after committing abuse.
While much of the letter comes across as a direct attack on USA Swimming, Miller’s tone changes nearing the end. He called the establishment of the USA Swimming Safe Sport Program a “significant step to standardize the handling of allegations around the sexual abuse.” He suggests that “immediate, timely, and enhanced scrutiny of past and present sexual abuse cases by an outside expert such as the FBI would make significant strides in placing USA Swimming on a path to rid its rank of sexual predators.”
In response to the letter, Maxwell Marker, the Acting Deputy Assistant Director of the Criminal Investigative Decision responded that they reviewed the information and met with USA Swimming.
“FBI representatives recently met with USA Swimming officials and discussed applicable federal violations associated with child exploitation matters, the vulnerabilities of those within USA Swimming, and provided information to assist in USA Swimming’s effort to educate their membership regarding the sexual exploitation of children.”
When asked on Thursday, a USA Swimming spokesperson said that the organization has met with the FBI since Congressman Miller’s letter, at what he called an “industry conference.” The spokesperson says that Miller’s letter was not a topic of the discussion during that meeting, and that the conversation was “unrelated.”
USA Swimming Pushes Back
“There are several areas where we differ from Rep. Miller’s inaccurate assertions,” a USA Swimming spokesperson said on Friday morning, and continued on to list several of those instances.
The organization again denied that their meeting with the FBI earlier this year was in any way related to Congressman Miller’s letter, though the FBI cited that meeting as part of their response to Rep. Miller’s office.
“FBI and USA Swimming representatives met informally during an industry conference late this summer to discuss how the two organizations can collaborate to develop educational and other programming to prevent child exploitation,” the spokesperson said. “The conversation was unequivocally unrelated to Rep. Miller’s letter and Rep. Miller’s letter and thoughts were not mentioned in the meeting.”
In addressing specific accusations, USA Swimming made reference to the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 that governs the ethics of organizations like USA Swimming.
Specifically in response to Miller’s assertion that USA Swimming has not fully investigated certain cases, the spokesperson said “USA Swimming is subject to the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, established by Congress, and the Ted Stevens Amateur and Olympic Sports Act, which require ‘fair notice and opportunity for a hearing to any amateur athlete, coach, trainer, manager, administrator or official before declaring the individual ineligible to participate. Every complaint received by USA Swimming is reviewed and further information is gathered. Before USA Swimming can declare an individual ineligible to participate, a hearing must be offered, where a preponderance of the evidence must be established to confirm a violation occurred and issue a suspension or lifetime ban.
“Testimony is an important part of presenting any case but all available evidence is presented. There have been several cases that have gone forward without victim participation. Ultimately, a preponderance of the evidence, similar to the legal system at-large, is required for suspension or lifetime ban.”
The spokesperson also called Miller’s comment about not sharing information regarding banned coaches “inaccurate,” pointing to the public banned list that USA Swimming began to publish in 2010. The spokesperson points out that USA Swimming was “one of the first bodies to do so in 2010,” and “remains one of the few organizations to do so.”
“We do not in any way condone nor protect banned members,” the spokesperson said. “USA Swimming has no legal jurisdiction to discipline individuals who are not and have never been members of USA Swimming.”
USA Swimming did not specifically address any of the examples or cases brought up by Rep. Miller, including those referenced above.