From top: a certificate of character signed by An Garda Síochána for George Gibney’s US visa application in 1992; former Irish swimming coach George Gibney; journalist Irvin Muchnick (right)
American sportswriter and journalist Irvin Muchnick spoke to Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio One about former Irish swimming coach George Gibney.
Mr Muchnik is visiting Ireland this week as he launches the second eBook edition of his book about Gibney.
Gibney was charged with 27 counts of indecency against young swimmers and of carnal knowledge of girls under the age of 15 in Ireland in April, 1993.
However, he moved to the United States in 1995, the year after an unusual and controversial decision by the Supreme Court led to the quashing of these charges.
He was also granted a visa during a visit to the United States in 1992 – seemingly aided by a Garda character reference – a year after people who had been abused by him started to speak up and organise themselves.
These accusers included a woman who alleged she was indecently assaulted by Gibney on a swimming trip to Holland in 1990 and, the following year, raped by him in Florida in June 1991.
From this morning’s interview…
Sean O’Rourke: “I gather that you believe that this year, 2019, might signal some changes in this case. Tell me why.”
Irvin Muchnick: “Well, the reason is that widespread scandals in the Olympic sport programmes in the United States have come to light through the USA Gymnastics scandal and there are federal investigations of racketeering and insurance fraud involving USA Swimming , USA Taekwando and other groups and those are the real reasons why 2019 I think is going to be the year of reckoning for George Gibney.”
“We’ve learned from a Freedom of Information Act case that Gibney unsuccessfully applied for American citizenship in 2010, I believe, hoping to inoculate himself from these ongoing serial efforts to get him extradited and brought back for justice in Ireland.
“And in a quirk, he was denied citizenship because he lied on his application about his Irish past but, strangely, nothing happened in terms of his Green Card and his permanent resident/alien status in the United States.
“So, what my new reporting has uncovered is that there’s not just paperwork issues with George Gibney but perhaps other acts he committed while he was in America.
“He was the leader of a church group, medical mission, to Peru that involved a strange Catholic sect called the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae and those are some of the things that are coming to the fore for federal investigators right now.”
O’Rourke: “Coming back, you say he tried in 2010 to get American citizenship but he was declined it or denied it on the basis that he had filed false information?”
Muchnick: “Right. What the Freedom of Information case documents revealed is that US Citizenship and Immigration Services kicked his application back to him and said ‘you want to give this another go?’ because you have to disclose not just whether you have ever been convicted of a crime but whether you’ve ever been arrested, charged, indicted.
“And evidently he didn’t comply because his citizenship application was denied.
“But the weird Catch-22 is that, at the same time, another federal agency in the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement put out a letter that said he could not be removed from the country because he had never been convicted.
“So this is the conundrum that we face this year.”
O’Rourke: “And how is he getting on, living in the United States? I mean you and other people have shone a lot of light on his background here in Ireland and on the questions that have been asked. So how has he been doing? He’s there now over quarter of a century?”
Muchnick: “Right it’s a front-page story in Ireland, it’s kind of crickets in major media. I have a small outlet trying to shine light on this and he’s basically hiding in plain sight. He coached briefly, we think, because of a recommendation from the American Swimming Coaches Association – which should be accountable, as should be USA Swimming.
“But after his Irish past was exposed locally, in Colorado, in 1995, he backed away from his swimming career but he’s had various jobs. He’s now living in Altamonte Springs, Florida, we believe, just north of Orlando.
“And I call it hiding in plain sight.”
O’Rourke: “But is there any reason to believe, I mean, you say, you talk about this background of scandals in gymnastics and taekwondo and US Olympic circles, but why should that, or how might that be brought to bear and turn up the heat on George Gibney?”
Muchnick: “Well the reason is that there are federal investigations looking into all these things. I think the FBI and other federal agencies are a little bit embarrassed that they were asleep at the switch on the gymnastics scandal. So they’re looking to, to make good on that, and clean up the Olympic programmes in some way.
“So I think, paradoxically, by not having this intense focus just on Gibney, he’s marginally out there and I do know that investigators have been reading my reporting and have determined to act on it.”
O’Rourke: “And is there a sense that what he might face would be deportation or would it be extradition?”
Muchnick: “Well it would be extradition. It’s kind of thing where the Americans are saying ‘after you, first’. And the Irish are saying ‘we want you to do something’. The Garda and American law enforcement have to start talking to each other under EU protocols and share information.
“We know that Gibney had one known crime on American soil in 1991 in Tampa, Florida, and so that could be a basis for…”
O’Rourke: “Is that a conviction now?”
Muchnick: “No, it’s not.”
O’Rourke: “Strictly speaking, you cannot say someone has a known crime unless they’re convicted of it.”
Muchnick: “That’s correct and that’s always been the difficulty at getting at this. But my understanding is that in Ireland there’s been a revisiting of that controversial 1994 Supreme Court ruling that effectively quashed his indictment and that could be looked at again. There could be new victims…”
O’Rourke: “There could be new victims coming forward or new claims that will have to be investigated.
“Do you know, as of now, whether there is a request for George Gibney, submitted to the US authorities by the gardai here or by the Director of Public Prosecutions, for his extradition to this country?”
Muchnick: “I think we know pretty clearly there is not one as yet. However, in 2015, TD Maureen O’Sullivan did ask the Director of Public Prosecutions to look at this again. And I understand that that matter is ongoing.”
O’Rourke: “I know that every time this case is discussed, it causes distress to the victims. They must feel disheartened that it drags on. I think some of them have found a way of just putting it behind them in so far as is possible. And accepting that they’re not going to see justice. But, you know, with no apparent resolution, I’m wondering why you continue to pursue it, Irv. Do you actually think you’re getting somewhere?”
Muchnick: “I do and I’ll tell you why in a moment. But I am looking forward to meeting a victim while I’m on my Dublin visit tomorrow. I do understand the pain that they’ve endured for many years and I do understand that many of them are ambivalent at this point, having had their hopes dashed so many times in the past, as to whether this is even good for them to do this.
“But my message to the Irish is that this is not just about the victims, this is about a system of institutions in global sport that enable bad actors, like George Gibney, to do what they do. And so it’s so important to hold accountable Swim Ireland, USA Swimming, most especially the American Swimming Coaches Association and so I hope that we can work together on that, moving forward to clean up sports.”
O’Rourke: “And what about the current climate in which, for instance, you have President Trump speaking out strongly against, I suppose what he would describe, generally, as undesirables. I mean might that somehow contribute to increasing the pressure on George Gibney?”
Muchnick: “That’s a great point and a great question and I think that it’s the real reason there’s hope right now. That even though Donald Trump has weaponised the immigration question and he’s demonised Central Americans and Muslims, not so much white Europeans, there’s still a movement there is some indication that bad guys from Ireland have been sent back, other than George Gibney.”
O’Rourke: “But do you know, or do you know of particular individuals in the United States’ system of immigration and law enforcement, whatever you want to call it, who are on this case?”
Muchnick: “Yes. I know that there are federal agents who are involved in these swimming investigations who are taking a specific look at George Gibney right now.”
O’Rourke: “OK, well no doubt you and we will continue to keep an eye on this situation and bring any developments to our audience. Journalist, investigative journalist, Irvin Muchnick, thank you very much for coming in.”
Muchnick: “Thank you for having me.”
Listen back in full here.
Previously: ‘There Is No Excuse’