Former U.S. Olympics gymnastics coach with ties to Larry Nassar faces human trafficking, racketeering charges

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Feb. 25—Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on Thursday filed human trafficking, sexual assault and racketeering charges against a Lansing-area gymnastics coach with ties to disgraced sports medicine doctor Larry Nassar.

The 24 charges against John Geddert include 20 counts of human trafficking of a minor, and one count each of first-degree criminal sexual assault, second-degree criminal sexual assault, racketeering and lying to a police officer, according to Eaton County District Court records.

Geddert, 63,coached the gold medal-winning 2012 U.S. women's gymnastics team at the London Olympics.

Geddert also owned Twistars USA, an elite gymnastics facility near Lansing where multiple victims of Larry Nassar trained and said they were assaulted by the former doctor who worked for Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics.

In January 2018, USA Gymnastics suspended Geddert amid the fallout from the Nassar scandal and he transferred ownership of the facility to his wife, Kathryn Geddert.

His lawyer, Chris Bergstrom, could not immediately be reached for comment.

"Geddert's abuse, like so much, was never a secret. EVER," tweeted Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual assault. "In my memoir I wrote about knowing of it even as a club level gymnast in 2000. Because we have to grapple with the reality that it was known, and no one stopped him. It was known, and he was promoted and given more power."

The charges against Geddert come three years after Nassar was sentenced for sexually assaulting women and girls under the guise of medical care over nearly three decades. He was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison in Ingham County on seven sexual assault charges and 40 to 125 years in Eaton County on three sexual assault charges tied to Twistars. He was already serving a 60-year federal sentence for possessing 37,000 images of child pornography

An investigation under Nessel's predecessor, former Attorney General Bill Schuette, resulted in charges against William Strampel, former MSU dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine and Nassar's former boss; Kathie Klages, the former head MSU women's gymnastics coach and former MSU President Lou Anna Simon.

Strampel and Klages served time in jail. Simon was headed for trial in October 2020 on charges of lying to police, but a judge dismissed the case after ruling prosecutors didn't produce enough evidence to bind the case to circuit court. Nessel appealed the dismissal in June.

Sarah Klein, one of the first women believed to have been sexually abused by Nassar, said that Nassar and Geddert needed to be held accountable but "until now, the Geddert piece was missing, which hasn't allowed closure."

She started practicing gymnastics at age 5 and Geddert was one of her first coaches. She trained with him for 10 years while at Great Lakes Gymnastics in Lansing.

One of her most vivid memories of him was when she 12 years old and had eaten French fries on the way to practice, then later vomited.

"He was so mad that he pushed my face in the vomit and then called the rest of the girls over to stand around me and watch me clean it up," said Klein. "He did that because French fries were not on his 'nutritional guidelines.'"

Klein, now a Philadelphia-based lawyer and advocate for victims of sexual abuse, remembers Geddert screaming all the time, calling fellow gymnasts names and depriving them of water on hot summer days. She said she witnessed him throwing things at gymnasts, berating them and dropping them on purpose if they did something wrong.

"We didn't just survive Nassar. We also survived John Geddert," said Klein. "John broke us, physically and psychologically, and Larry was there to put us back together. These two men developed a good cop/bad cop dynamic from the beginning that benefitted them both enormously. They enabled each other's abuse ... Thanks to the attorney general and her office, this story now feels much more complete."

Days after Nassar went to prison after receiving his third and final sentence, the Eaton County Sheriff Department announced that it had launched a criminal investigation following complaints that were lodged against Geddert.

Nessel took over the investigation from Eaton County Prosecutor Doug Lloyd in February 2019.

A year later, in January 2020, Nessel's office with the assistance of Michigan State Police and the Grand Ledge Police Department executed search warrants at Twistars and at an Eaton County home connected to Geddert.

The charges filed Wednesday encompass incidents between 2008 and 2018. Nassar went to prison in February 2018.

The sexual assault charges are alleged to have occurred in January 2012 and involve a reported victim between the ages of 13 and 16.

The lying to police charge is alleged to have occurred on Sept. 27, 2016, about two weeks after Denhollander first publicly accused Nassar of sexual assault in a story in the Indy Star.

Geddert has made one remark about the scandal, saying in a March 2017 statement he had "zero knowledge" of the allegations against Nassar.

California-based attorney John Manly, who represented many of Nassar's victims, hailed Nessel's move to take over the probe at the time.

"Geddert was a close associate of Nassar's for decades," said Manly. "Many of our clients reported abuse by Nassar at Geddert's gym, and also alleged physical and emotional abuse by Geddert as a coach."

During Nassar's sentencing hearings where Nassar's victims gave impact statements, several said Geddert was physically abusive and made them seek medical care from Nassar.

A statement read at Nassar's sentencing hearing in Ingham County on behalf of McKayla Maroney, who was on the 2012 team and who retired after winning gold, said she dreamed as a little girl of being an Olympian.

"I did it. I got there, but not without a price," Maroney wrote.

In 2011, before the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Tokyo, Japan, Maroney said that after Nassar gave her a sleeping pill on the flight, she awoke in his hotel room and he gave her a "treatment." At the time, she was 15 and not yet an Olympic gold medalist.

"I thought I was going to die," she wrote.

The next day, while in a vehicle with Geddert, trainer Debbie Van Horn and other gymnasts, Maroney announced that Nassar had "fingered her" the night before, said Manly, who represented Maroney.

"No one said anything," Manly said. "One of the athletes turned around and said, 'Don't ever say anything bad about him again.' She was very young. It worked. She was silent."

During a 2018 interview with NBC "Today" co-host Savannah Guthrie, Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, who was also on the 2012 team. Raisman said she was in the vehicle when Maroney spoke of Nassar's abuse and Geddert said nothing.

"And why do you think it sticks in your memory?" Guthrie asked Raisman.

"Because I feel that what people don't understand is that there were so many adults around us all the time," Raisman replied. "And nobody ever asked any questions. Nobody ever said anything. And so that's why we just — we always thought that we were the problem. You never, ever realized that sexual abuse can happen to you until it does."

In 2018, Texas authorities charged Van Horn, a trainer who worked with Nassar, with second-degree child sexual assault. The charge stemmed from gymnasts' accusations that Nassar abused them at the Karolyi Ranch, a national gymnastics team training center, and that Van Horn failed to protect them. Van Horn has pleaded not guilty.

Come back to www.detroitnews.com as this story develops.

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