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Seattle Olympian: My coach abused me on USA Swimming’s watch

by ZwemZa on February 8th, 2018
Ariana Kukors (KING5.com)

Ariana Kukors (KING5.com)

Investigators with a Homeland Security Department task force on Tuesday searched Sean Hutchison’s downtown Seattle apartment, recovering electronic devices they say may contain evidence that Hutchison sexually exploited swimmers in his coaching stable. The investigation is ongoing; Hutchison has not been criminally charged.

Ariana Kukors, a member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, said she went to police with claims that Hutchison sexually exploited her as a girl by using his position as her coach to “groom” her. In a statement Wednesday, Kukors, now 28, said she acted out of concern that Hutchison may still be abusing children.

“I never thought I would share my story because, in so many ways, just surviving was enough,” Kukors said. “I was able to leave a horrible monster and build a life I could have never imagined for myself.

“But in time, I’ve realized that stories like my own are too important to go unwritten. Not for the sake of you knowing my story, but for the little girls and boys whose lives and future hangs in the grasp of a horribly powerful and manipulative person. That they may not have to go through the same pain, trauma, horror, and abuse. That their parents, mentors, and guardians are better able to spot the signs of grooming and realize it’s tragic consequences before it’s too late.”

Kukors, world-ranked as a 17-year-old in two events, retired from competitive swimming in 2013. She worked the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials as a co-host of “Deck Pass,” a live TV show created by USA Swimming to cover qualification races for the Rio Games.

In a search warrant affidavit, a Homeland Security Investigations special agent said investigators responded to claims that Hutchison took sexually explicit photos of Kukors more than a decade ago. Hutchison was a U.S. Olympic swimming coach at the time, a position from which he resigned in 2010.

According to press reports, Hutchison left the U.S. Olympic team after rumors surfaced that he was sexually involved with a swimmer. That did not end his coaching career – Hutchison is listed as the CEO of a premier Seattle-area swim team.

Homeland Security spokeswoman Lori Haley asked that anyone with information, questions or concerns about Hutchison contact a tip line set up for the investigation by phone at 206-442-1469 or by email at hsiseattletips@ice.dhs.gov.

“We are still in the very preliminary stages of this investigation, but obviously a top priority in all cases involving alleged online child exploitation is identifying any possible minor victims,” Haley said Wednesday. “The phone line and email box will be closely monitored by HSI agents and all calls will receive a prompt response.”

USA Swimming, the governing body that selects the U.S. Olympic swim team and staff, is among the organizations targeted in a recent Congressional inquiry into sex abuse in America’s elite athletic organizations.

The House investigation was sparked by outrage over USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of as many as 265 girls. Six members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce sent a letter on Jan. 26 demanding records and testimony from USA Swimming related to abuses there.

“The abhorrent abuses associated with USA Gymnastics, as well as allegations in 2014, when 19 former swimmers said they were sexually abused by their coaches, may raise concerns about whether your organization has sufficient mechanisms to protect your athletes from abuse and mistreatment,” committee members said in the letter. “Accordingly, the Committee is seeking information from USA Swimming because of the role it plays in overseeing swimming and protecting all of its athletes.”

Investigators did not identify Kukors in court papers. It is standard police practice to withhold the identity of possible victims of sexual crimes from most publicly accessible documents. SeattlePI does not publicize the identities of sexual abuse survivors without their permission.

Writing the court, the Homeland Security agent said “A.K.” – Kukors – claimed Hutchison took hundreds or thousands of nude photos of her while she was still a minor.

According to court papers, Homeland Security launched an investigation on Jan. 30 following a report from Kukors. She told investigators that Hutchison had been sanctioned by USA Swimming after she reported the sexual abuse.

Kukors, who was born in the Seattle suburb of Federal Way, told investigators she began swimming for Hutchison in 2002. Hutchison was coaching elite swimmers in the Seattle area at the time.

US National swim coach Sean Hutchison in 2010.  (Photo by MARK RIGHTMIRE,  ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER/SCNG)

US National swim coach Sean Hutchison in 2010. (Photo by MARK RIGHTMIRE, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER/SCNG)

They traveled the world as part of USA Swimming, the governing body that manages America’s top swimming competitions. USA Swimming also selects the Olympic team.

According to court papers, Kukors described Hutchison as having groomed her for sex beginning when she was a young teen. She told investigators he sexually assaulted her on trips and while training at King County pools. Hutchison is alleged to have taken nude photos of her when she was 17.

“He took hundreds or thousands of sexually explicit photographs of her,” the Homeland Security agent said, recalling Kukors’ statements to investigators. He said she expressed suspicions that Hutchison had sexually abused other swimmers.

In a statement, Kukors said she came to believe she had to speak out about Hutchison after recognizing that she had suppressed memories of the pain she endured at her coach’s hand. She contacted Des Moines police and Homeland Security Investigations, which led to Tuesday’s search of Hutchison’s apartment.

Attorney Robert Allard, who represents Kukors alongside another California attorney, Ray Mendoza, compared Kukors’ experience to those of the athletes abused by Nassar. Abuse, Allard said, was not reported to authorities as it should have been.

“Much like the (U.S. Olympic Committee) knew about Larry Nassar years before his arrest and did nothing, USA Swimming had notice in 2010 that Sean Hutchison was involved in an inappropriate coach-athlete relationship with Ariana and took no actions to protect her or other swimmers from this pedophile,” Allard in a statement. “If this organization had immediately reported what it knew to authorities, Hutchison likely would have been stopped, Ariana would have been spared years of abuse, and countless other young girls would have been protected from this sexual predator.”

Mendoza, a former sex crimes prosecutor, argued that “any suspicion of an inappropriate sexual relationship” should be immediately reported to police.

As of Wednesday, Hutchison was listed as the CEO and program director of King Aquatic Club, a USA Swimming member sports club. The club did not immediately return a request for comment. USA Swimming did not return requests for comment.

Sean Hutchison was listed as the CEO and program director of King Aquatic Club as of Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018. Police searched his Seattle apartment the day before looking for evidence that he had sexually exploited a teen Olympian. Photo: King Aquatic Club

Photo: King Aquatic Club

Sean Hutchison was listed as the CEO and program director of King Aquatic Club as of Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018. Police searched his Seattle apartment the day before looking for evidence that he had sexually exploited a teen Olympian.

Hutchison is suspected of possession of child pornography and sexual exploitation of a minor. He was not jailed following Tuesday’s search of his home.

Levi Pulkkinen SeattlePI

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