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More allegations made that sex abuse is rampant in competitive U.S. youth swimming

Photo by Orlin Wagner

Photo by Orlin Wagner

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Attorneys filed a lawsuit Monday against the governing body of U.S. competitive swimming and a suburban swim coach whom they claim had a sexual relationship with a teenage swimmer.

The claims are the latest against USA swimming, which has come under fire recently for its handling of alleged sexual abuse cases.

The lawsuit filed in a Jackson County, Mo. court accuses Robert D. Mirande groomed the teen for a sexual relationship -- even providing her alcohol -- and ultimately had "inappropriate sexual contact" with her between the summer of 2006 and winter of 2007.

The name of the young woman, who was 17 when she claims the abuse started, is not being released.

Lynn Johnson, the plaintiff's attorney, said his client decided she "couldn't live with herself" if she didn't do something to change the "culture of tolerance" and "culture of denial."

"It's a black eye to swimming," Johnson added Monday in a news conference in Kansas City. "The thing that is very important is that by not investigating and expelling coaches that engage in this conduct, it's giving a black eye to all the good coaches, and there are many of them."

The suit alleges that USA Swimming and Aaron Dean, who supervised Mirande as the former head coach of the Kansas City Dolphins swim club in Blue Springs, did not promptly or adequately investigate the claims against him.

Mirande and Dean have since left for coaching jobs with Occoquan Swimming Inc. in Prince William County, Va. Both are named as defendants in the suit.

Mirande said in an e-mail that he was not aware of the lawsuit and would have no comment. Dean said he planned "to cooperate fully with any further investigations as well as see the judicial system run its course."

The Missouri lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, noting that the alleged victim suffers from post traumatic stress disorder.

USA Swimming said in an e-mail that it had been investigating the case for the past three months but had been unable to obtain critical information from the person making the complaint.

"Because we take allegations of coach misconduct very seriously, we have notified local law enforcement authorities," according to an e-mail from the group. "Our top priority remains ensuring the safety of our membership, and in that regard, it is our hope that this case will provide the details we've been seeking in order to carry out our review process."

The suit said that in the spring 2008, Dean was informed that Mirande was grooming another girl for "inappropriate sexual conduct."

The suit said that Dean contacted the plaintiff who confirmed that Mirande had an inappropriate sexual relationship with her. Her parents demanded in May 2008 that Mirande be barred from coaching.

Mirande left the Kansas City area in the summer 2008, the suit said.

In September 2008, the plaintiff's parents had several phone conversations with and sent e-mails to USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus describing what happened to their daughter. But the suit said nothing happened.

That fall Dean left the Kansas City area to become the head swim coach for the Virginia club. He hired Mirande as an assistant coach in July 2009.

The plaintiff's parents learned that fall that Mirande was coaching again and sent another e-mail to Wielgus asking that he lose his position as a registered coach. But Johnson said nothing happened until a few days after Wielgus was interviewed for a report aired earlier this month on ABC's prime-time "20/20" newsmagazine that at least 36 swimming coaches have been banned for life by the USA Swimming organization over the last 10 years because of sexual misconduct.

In response, Wielgus told "20/20," that the problem was not "nearly as serious in USA Swimming as it might be in the rest of society," the newsmagazine reported on its Web site.

The governing body for swimming has increasingly facing questions about its handling of alleged sexual abuse cases.

Last month, Deena Deardurff Schmidt, a 1972 Olympic champion swimmer, disclosed that as she trained in the 1960s, she was repeatedly molested by her coach. Despite telling officials at USA Swimming years later, she said, the coach -- whom she wouldn't name -- went on to train more young swimmers and was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

Her comments came a day after a separate lawsuit was filed in Santa Clara County, Calif., alleging that more than 30 coaches nationwide have engaged in sexual misconduct with young females.

Wielgus said previously that officials immediately investigate any claims of misconduct, and if there is validity to a claim, they work to expel the coach. He has noted that while USA Swimming offers guidance, screening and support to local clubs, the clubs ultimately make hiring decisions.

There were no immediate responses to e-mail and phone messages left with the Kansas City Dolphins.

Missouri Valley Swimming, the swimming committee that overseas about 60 clubs in the region, also was named as a defendant. John Dicus, the general chair of the group, said "no swimmer should ever suffer sexual abuse from anyone involved in USA Swimming" and referred additional questions to USA Swimming