US gymnastics coach faces child porn charges

CHICAGO (AFP) - A gymnastics coach in the US state of Wisconsin is facing child pornography charges for secretly recording athletes at his training centre locker room and bathroom, police announced on Thursday (March 15).

The accusations against James Kivisto, 49, come as USA Gymnastics, the sport's governing body, is reeling from an expansive sexual abuse scandal involving once star doctor Larry Nassar who molested hundreds of gymnasts including Olympians.

A sheriff in the Midwestern state said investigators found at least 100 "inappropriate images" on devices owned by Kivisto, who lived in and operated the Wind Lake Gymnastics Center, a facility he owned for 11 years in a suburb of the city of Milwaukee.

Kivisto was a gymnastics coach at other facilities dating back to 1987, police said, adding that they expect to find more images as they continue to examine the coach's electronic devices.

Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling noted that Kivisto had listed more than 800 students on his facility's ledger.

"We know that there are going to be hundreds of victims," Schmaling told a Thursday news conference.

"We're going to expose every aspect of this disgusting man's character dating back to 1987." Kivisto was arrested Tuesday on multiple counts of child pornography, after a parent reported finding a hidden camera inside the gym's bathroom.

Police discovered additional cameras in the facility's locker room, as well, Schmaling said.

"He admitted that he viewed those images for his own personal satisfaction," the sheriff said, adding that investigators had so far not discovered any evidence of abuse or that he distributed the images online.

Kivisto remains in jail in lieu of $500,000 bail, police said.

Kivisto was investigated in 1999 for child pornography by law enforcement in another Milwaukee suburb, the sheriff said.

The local prosecutor's office could not immediately provide information to AFP about the results of the earlier investigation.

The Wind Lake Gymnastics Center claims on its website that it is a "USA Gymnastics Member Club," and has met safety and background check requirements set by the governing body.

USA Gymnastics said in a statement that it has now suspended Kivisto's and the club's memberships, in response to the criminal allegations.

"After learning about the arrest of James Kivisto, USA Gymnastics reported the information to the US Center for Safe Sport," the governing body said.

"USA Gymnastics cannot comment further unless an action taken involves a public result, such as being placed on the list of individuals permanently ineligible for membership."

The organisation, whose entire board resigned earlier this year, has been under fire for its handling of the Nassar scandal.

A once highly-regarded gymnastics national team doctor, the 54-year-old is accused of abusing more than 260 athletes over two decades.