Former US Olympics gymnastics coach charged with sexual abuse
Former US women gymnastics team's coach John Geddert, seen here celebrating a London Olympics gold medal with US team members, has been charged with human trafficking and criminal sexual conduct by prosecutors in Michigan - AFP/File

Former US Olympics women's gymnastics coach John Geddert has been charged with human trafficking and criminal sexual conduct, prosecutors said Thursday.

Geddert, who owned a training facility where convicted sex offender Larry Nassar served as the gym doctor, was targeted in a 24-count complaint unveiled by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

"These allegations focus around multiple acts of verbal, physical and sexual abuse perpetrated by the defendant against multiple young women," Nessel said in a tweet.

"I am grateful for these survivors coming forward to cooperate with our investigation and for bravely sharing their stories."

Geddert faces two first-degree sexual assault charges, both involving an unnamed athlete between the ages of 13 and 16 and both carrying a sentence of up to life in prison.

In addition, prosecutors allege that Geddert's treatment of young gymnasts constitutes human trafficking "as he reportedly subjected his athletes to forced labor or services under extreme conditions that contributed to them suffering injuries and harm.

"Geddert then neglected those injuries that were reported to him by the victims and used coercion, intimidation, threats and physical force to get them to perform to the standard he expected."

Geddert, 63, came under scrutiny because of his close personal and professional relationships with Nassar, the former US national team doctor sentenced to life in prison over the sexual abuse of many young female gymnasts under the guise of medical treatment.

A personal coach to US gymnast Jordyn Wieber and owner of the Twistars training facility, Geddert was accused by many Nassar victims of requiring them to be treated by Nassar.

USA Gymnastics suspended Geddert in 2018. He immediately announced his retirement and said he had "zero knowledge" of Nassar's crimes.

However, in three weeks of sentencing hearings during which some 200 women, girls and victims' family members confronted Nassar by reading victim impact statements, Twistars gymnasts said they had endured physical and verbal abuse by Geddert.

Amy Preston, mother of an unidentified Nassar victim who was trained at Twistars, said in court that her daughter suffered under Geddert's emotional abuse, which she said Nassar exploited to build trust with the young gymnast.

"John Geddert behaved as brutally as they say, and Larry was as kind as they speak. A very toxic and lethal combination as it turns out," Preston said.

Geddert is also charged with making false or misleading statements to authorities investigating Nassar, lying when he was asked whether he knew the doctor was sexually abusing athletes.

Prosecutors stressed that that was the only charge against Geddert specifically linked to Nassar and that otherwise "the crimes alleged against Mr. Geddert are his own."

He is also charged with racketeering, with prosecutors alleging he trafficked 15 athletes for financial gain.

© 2021 AFP