Cheerleader Abuse Lawsuits Raise Racketeering Claims Against Gyms, Uniform Retailers, Others
Several sexual abuse lawsuits filed by cheerleaders against coaches, choreographers and others in the industry now include racketeering charges, which are normally only seen in connection with organized crime syndicates.
At least 20 cheerleaders across six states have filed claims alleging they were sexually abused by coaches and choreographers, and that gym owners, uniform manufacturers and gymnastics federations knew about the abuse, but covered it up.
A number of recently filed complaints included allegations that the U.S. All-Star Federation and others in the industry orchestrated a cover-up of the abuse, constituting violations of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), according to the Associated Press.
The plaintiffs, listed only as John Doe’s in the complaints, are primarily young male cheerleaders, who allege they endured systemic coercion, sexual abuse and exploitation as minors while on the competitive cheerleading circuit.
Many of the coaches accused in the lawsuits, such as Dominick Frizzell, Jason McCartney and Scott Foster, were considered “Cheerlebrities” with large social media followings and television appearances.
Foster, the owner of Rockstar Cheer gym, in South Carolina, committed suicide after allegations and a lawsuit were filed in August.
The sexual abuse lawsuits and revelations of widespread cover ups have shaken the cheerleading industry, which faces allegations of ignoring obvious signs of sexual misconduct by coaches involving minors, while raking in obscene profits by forcing parents to pay for hotels, equipment, lessons and transportation; at inflated prices.
In August, U.S. All Star Federation, which manages and runs cheer competitions nationwide, issued a press release (PDF) addressing the complaints and urged its members to report incidents of suspected abuse.
Critics of the organization, including many of the plaintiffs now pursuing a lawsuit, say there is little way the organization could not have known about the culture of sexual abuse, and rarely investigated or responded to reports when they were submitted. The group has refused to comment on the specific allegations of the lawsuits themselves, as the national organization is a defendant in many, if not all, of those filed so far.
Cheer Sexual Abuse Racketeering Allegations
The allegations, added to a South Carolina lawsuit in mid-December, include mail and wire fraud, claiming the U.S. All Star Federation put false online messages on its website that it required background checks for all coaches. However, the lawsuits say defendants did not actually require them for adults coaching children.
The lawsuit says the racketeering also included the systemic enticement of minors by promising them fame, the potential for scholarships, and said they then willfully endangered them by providing them with drugs and alcohol and then subjected them to sexual abuse.
Defendants have pushed back against the claims, saying there is no evidence the groups such as USAF and Varsity Spirit, a uniform provider, had any kind of conspiratorial agreement.
In convicted, RICO charges carry hard penalties, including potential jail time of up to 20 years, and could be forced to pay triple the damages suffered by plaintiffs.
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