Gymnastics: Ex-US Olympics coach John Geddert kills himself after human trafficking charges

A 2012 photo shows Geddert celebrating gold with gymnasts from the US women's team at the London Olympics. PHOTO: AFP

DETROIT (NYTIMES) - Former US Olympic gymnastics coach John Geddert killed himself on Thursday (Feb 25), according to a spokeswoman for the Michigan attorney-general's office, shortly after he was charged with human trafficking, criminal sexual conduct and other crimes.

Geddert, who owned a gym where athletes said they were sexually assaulted by the former team doctor Lawrence Nassar, was the head coach of the 2012 Olympic gymnastics team and formerly owned and coached at Twistars, a gymnastics club located in Dimondale, a suburb of Lansing, Michigan.

Dana Nessel, Michigan's attorney-general, announced the charges on Thursday at an afternoon news conference.

Geddert faced 20 counts of human trafficking - including 14 counts of forced labour resulting in injury and six counts of trafficking a minor - as well as charges of racketeering, first-degree criminal sexual conduct, second-degree criminal sexual assault and lying to a police officer.

A lawyer for Geddert could not immediately be reached for comment.

According to a felony complaint filed on Thursday in Eaton County, Michigan, Geddert is accused of human trafficking for about a decade, from 2008 into 2018. The complaint also accuses Geddert of criminal sexual conduct involving a person between the ages of 13 and 16 in January 2012.

Search warrants were obtained for Geddert's home and his former gym, with prosecutors obtaining "12 boxes of evidence and a large number of electronic devices," Nessel said at the news conference.

Nessel said the allegations "stemmed from events that occurred in the state of Michigan," but did not give an exact number of how many people the case involved, saying "less than 50, and they are all minors."

According to prosecutors, victims suffered from self-harm and eating disorders, enduring an environment of "extreme" emotional and physical abuse. They also endured "excessive physical conditioning," Nessel said, and were forced to perform at times when they were injured.

"Many of these victims still carry these scars from his behavior to this day," Nessel said.

Nessel said Geddert had been expected to turn himself in to authorities and was set to be arraigned Thursday afternoon.

Danielle Hagaman-Clark, the state's assistant attorney-general, said that all but one of the counts against Geddert related to Nassar.

In 2018, Nassar was sentenced to 40-125 years in prison for criminal sexual conduct involving abuse that took place at Twistars between September 2009 and September 2011.

Prosecutors argued that Geddert knew about Nassar's sexual abuse. Hagaman-Clark said that "he failed to take action."

Sarah Klein, a former student of Geddert's who was abused by Nassar, said in a statement that Geddert "maintained a culture of fear" at his gym.

"It was widely known that Geddert and Nassar were close friends and it would have been unthinkable to approach him and complain about Nassar's actions," Klein said.

Rachael Denhollander, who was one of the first gymnasts to go public about Nassar's abuse, said on Thursday the charges brought against Geddert were "sobering."

"The reality is Geddert's abuse was never a secret," said Denhollander, who attended meets with Twistars' athletes as a gymnast.

"Geddert could have and should have been stopped decades ago."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.