Former USA Swimming VP complains about screening

PAUL NEWBERRY AP Sports Writer Published:

A former vice president at USA Swimming claims the organization's new screening procedures failed to detect a coach with multiple identities and a felony conviction.

Mike Saltzstein filed a complaint Monday asking for a review of a person known as James Pantera, who became involved with San Diego Imperial Swimming last year.

In the complaint obtained by The Associated Press, Saltzstein said his review found the person has at least 11 identities and three dates of birth, and that he was sentenced to a year in federal prison for making false statements and fraudulently obtaining student loans.

Saltzstein questioned whether USA Swimming's new screening policies were doing enough to protect swimmers in the wake of numerous sexual abuse cases involving coaches and underage athletes.

"How can the supposed 'gold standard' background check ... miss a felony conviction?" he wrote.

The governing body said it would "carefully look into the matter."

"As part of USA Swimming's partnership with our membership, we strongly encourage anyone with information about a possible Code of Conduct violation to contact us so we can further investigate the claims," the organization said in a statement. "The success of our Safe Sport program relies on all of our members working with us and being diligent about the safety of our athletes."

Saltzstein was a vice president at USA Swimming from 2000-06. He has criticized the organization for its handling of the sexual abuse scandal and said he was worried, based on this case, that other predators could slip through the cracks.

USA Swimming responded to the sexual abuse cases by hiring an official to oversee athlete safety, setting up a new screening and education process that it describes as a model for all Olympic sports, and going public with a list of people who have received lifetime bans for misconduct.

A Web site set up by Pantera claims he is a swim coach, physiologist, executive and consultant. There was no immediate response to an email seeking comment.

Saltzstein said the person in question was able to obtain a lifetime membership in USA Swimming through Imperial Swimming in early November, presumably completing the required background check. He then began the process to start his own swim club in San Diego.

"There has been no verifiable swimming background that we have found despite Pantera's claims and representations," Saltzstein wrote. "Parents started to be suspicious and forwarded information that they found relevant, and which certainly raised flags. At this time he is both a coach and official, seemingly trying to do both at the same time at local meets."

The complaint also alleges that Pantera has been telling people his wife and two daughters were killed in a terrorist bombing in Israel that was never reported because of a news blackout.

"This individual apparently points out yet another major flaw in the new club system that is supposed to be protecting the athletes, their families and the community," Saltzstein said. "When a new club is coach owned, no reference checks are done. Athletes are immediately put at risk."

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