USA Diving continued to employ coaches and officials who were accused of sexual abuse by female athletes and neglected to tell law enforcement, according to a lawsuit filed Sunday night.
“Coaches and officials who were the subject of these complaints are still coaching children,” states the lawsuit filed by two anonymous women.
The women allege that Indiana-based diving club RipFest and its owner, former U.S. Olympic coach John Wingfield, failed to protect athletes from alleged sexual abuse by Johel Ramirez Sanchez, now a former coach.
Sanchez was “routinely sexually exploiting, assaulting, and raping multiple female athletes that were entrusted into the protection of USA Diving, Indiana Diving Association, Wingfield, and his diving club RipFest,” a press release on the complaint further states.
Both women claim they were sexually assaulted while in the program and that officials were slow to respond to their allegations.
"RipFest Diving remains committed to providing the highest quality training for our diving students in an extremely professional and safe environment,” the club said in a statement obtained by The Daily Beast.
Sanchez was convicted of battery last month, after being accused of more than 30 charges including sexual misconduct with a minor, child seduction, battery, and allegedly inappropriately touched three women, including a 15-year old. He was sentenced to more than a year and a half in jail after pleading guilty.
The former coach was ruled as “permanently ineligible for membership with USA Diving” after his arrest last November.
“Last year, when we became aware of allegations against Ramirez, we immediately removed him from our program, instructed him not to return to our facility pending the outcome of the investigation and terminated him," the Indiana diving facility said.
According to the lawsuit, Sanchez “attempted to digitally penetrate” one female athlete while she was sleeping in a RipFest dorm room in 2016, though she was able to fight him off. The other diver says that “on 12 occasions” Sanchez touched her outside of her swimsuit under the guise of helping her stretch.
Fifty women join these these anonymous women’s lawsuit, including one Venezuelan native who allegedly had sex with the former coach. “It was an open secret that Suarez was having sexual intercourse with another diver, who was then between the ages of 16 and 18,” the lawsuit states.
When both women complained to the RipFest owner, along with “numerous athletes,” Winfield allegedly justified Sanchez's actions, saying he is “Venezuelan, and that is just how they are.”
The women didn’t press the issue further, the lawsuit states, because they were afraid of retaliation from USA diving—the only “route to the Olympics.”
“This power structure creates a monopoly-like situation that exposes young, vulnerable, athletes to a very dangerous dynamic in which they are forced to do anything their coaches say,” Jon Little, the attorney who filed both lawsuits, said in a statement to The Daily Beast.
The complaint also mentions two other RipFest coaches who allegedly engaged in inappropriate conduct, though they were not named as defendants. One allegedly attempted to solicit nude photos of female divers, and in turn, the lawsuit claims, the coach would send back pictures of his penis.
The other coach allegedly had "sexually inappropriate interactions" with a female teenage diver, the lawsuit states.
Sunday’s legal action follows similar allegations laid out in a class-action lawsuit filed in July against RipFest and USA Diving for allegedly ignoring and obstructing sexual-abuse allegations, including a complaint made by a former Indiana University diver.
“This just the beginning for USA Diving,” Little said to the Indianapolis Star in July. “This is worse than gymnastics, worse than swimming.”
USA Diving did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.