CHARLOTTE, Mich. — The gymnasts who spoke to the Michigan Attorney General’s Office about coach John Geddert painted a horrifying picture.
Extreme verbal and emotional abuse. Excessive physical conditioning. Girls forced to perform through injuries. Sexual and physical assaults.
Geddert, the former USA Olympic Gymnastics coach and owner and coach at the Lansing, Michigan-area gym Twistars, was charged Thursdaywith 24 felonies: 20 counts of human trafficking and forced labor, two counts of sexual assault, racketeering and lying to police.
Geddert died by suicide Thursday afternoon, several hours after charges were filed. He had not yet turned himself in to police. Attorney General Dana Nessel said Geddert’s death “is a tragic end to a tragic story for everyone involved.”
The charges against Geddert were the result of a three-year investigation stemming from the conviction and sentencing of disgraced Michigan State University sports doctor Larry Nassar, who sexually assaulted girls hundreds of times while providing “treatments” in the back room of Twistars.
Bridgette Frost, a special agent at the AG’s office, laid out the 24 charges against Geddert in a nearly hour-long hearing Wednesday in front of Eaton County District Court Judge Julie O’Neill. A 37-page transcript of the hearing details the actions that caused charges to be finalized Thursday morning.
“(These) are not isolated acts, but rather a scheme that (Geddert) used to achieve profitable success,” Frost testified. “Geddert used a pattern of abusive tactics, including stopping, stomping on and stepping on victims’ bare feet while he was wearing shoes.”
Geddert controlled Twistars and collected money — $9.3 million of gross sales from 2012 to 2018 — from gymnasts who were forced to continue practicing and competing even while injured, Frost said. Tax records, however, showed he only reported a gross income of $2.7 million from 2014 to 2018.
That contributed to the racketeering charge, Frost said.
Sarah Klein, Nassar’s first known victim who trained with Geddert for more than 10 years, said the coach’s death by his own hands is an “admission of guilt that the entire world can now see.” She called Geddert a “narcissistic abuser.”
Klein is not one of the women named in the charges against Geddert.
“John Geddert’s escape from justice by committing suicide is traumatizing beyond words. He tortured and abused little girls, myself included, for more than 30 years and was able to cheat justice,” Klein said in a statement. “The bravery of Geddert’s many victims will stand for all time in stark contrast to his cowardice. As a survivor and a mother of two young girls, my only comfort is in the knowledge that I can rest my head on the pillow every night knowing that John Geddert will never terrorize and abuse another child.”
Forced to perform while injured
Twelve of the 20 gymnasts named in the complaint told investigators they were forced to compete or practice while injured.
Geddert forced one girl to practice after she got her wisdom teeth out, against her doctor’s advice. By the end of practice, “her mouth was swollen to the point she could barely talk,” Frost testified.
He forced another to return to practice a week after neck surgery. Her depth perception was off and when she struck the back of her neck on the bar, Geddert screamed at her.
Geddert routinely yanked another athlete off the uneven bars, causing further injury to an already hurt knee. One time, she fell 15 or 16 feet from the bars when Geddert let go of her, she told investigators.
When athletes told him of injuries, Geddert rolled his eyes and told them to keep going. He called them names. He screamed in their faces. He forced them to continue training, ignoring notes from doctors who requested otherwise.
He made one girl do 1,000 sit-ups immediately after she began to cry when she broke a bone on the top of her foot while running. Once Nassar fitted her with a boot, Geddert made her take it off and train, Frost testified.
He pulled one athlete into a seated position after she fell 10 feet and worried she’d broken her neck. He made her sit in a split for the rest of practice since she couldn’t continue the exercise. She later was diagnosed with fractured vertebrae.
When one girl hurt her Achilles tendon during practice, Geddert applied pressure to the injured area. He pushed down on her shoulders when she was in a split, even after she told him it hurt. He did this for five to 10 minutes and made her sit in the position for 15 minutes. She wasn’t able to walk after and crawled off the gym floor. She later discovered she had torn her Achilles tendon completely off her calf from her muscle.
A 10-year-old broke her thumb during practice. It was puffy and bruised, but Geddert said she was lying and made her do five rope climbs and practice an extra hour on the balance beam.
Another girl’s parents told investigators Geddert would tell the girls to wait until after a meet to tell Nassar about an injury so they could keep competing.
Sexual assault after a poor practice
One athlete told investigators Geddert had sexually assaulted her in the locker room when she was 14 years old. Geddert was charged with first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct in connection with this.
He shoved her up against the wall and pulled her leotard down to her waist, Frost testified. He pushed his hands under her sports bra and put his fingers in her vagina. He lifted her up with one hand, placed the other on her shoulder and leaned close to her face.
“This wouldn’t be happening if you just completed my assignment at practice like you were supposed to the day before,” the girl told investigators Geddert had said.
‘Extreme emotional abuse’ was routine, athletes said
All the girls included in the complaint told investigators about what Frost called “extreme emotional abuse.”
Geddert called his athletes names, alienated them from the other girls, screamed so loudly he would spit on their faces and belittled them, Frost testified. He criticized their weight and strictly monitored their progress with daily weigh-ins.
His intensity caused one girl to stop eating entirely in an attempt to meet his desired weight, Frost testified. She began to have panic attacks and commit acts of self-harm, including an attempt to kill herself in October 2012.
At a meeting shortly after the suicide attempt, Geddert required her to apologize to him for the attempt on her life. He was concerned it would ruin both of their reputations and cause her to lose scholarship opportunities.
“At the meeting it was decided that they would lie and she would say she had an allergic reaction,” Frost said.
After the girl received a college scholarship, Geddert called her coach and advised the coach to pull the scholarship because she was “lazy and did not want to work.” Geddert asked the coach to put in writing that he had never contacted her.
In another instance, he pulled a girl aside, called her a “disrespectful (expletive)” and said she should “climb to the top of the rafters of the gym, jump off and kill herself.”
She attempted to kill herself after she was interviewed by USA Gymnastics about a complaint that had been filed against Geddert. She had left the gym the year before, but was terrified of retaliation, Frost said.
Geddert told another girl to “just go kill yourself” after she told Geddert she had split her palm open during practice and was bleeding. She told investigators she was terrified of Geddert to the point where she had night terrors.
One girl told investigators she was so scared of Geddert she would often vomit during practice. She had nightmares and developed depression.
Geddert’s physical abuse: Pushing or dropping girls, stepping on bare feet
The abuse Geddert’s athletes suffered was not only emotional and verbal. Many of the girls complained of physical abuse at his hands as well.
He pushed girls off the balance beam, dropped them while spotting, pulled them down off the uneven bars and stepped on their bare toes with his shoes, Frost testified.
As he spotted one girl on the uneven bars, he grabbed her waist and threw her into the bars, striking her neck and face on the low bar. She fell and hit the ground, rupturing the lymph nodes on the right side of her neck, causing a black eye and tearing her abdominal muscles.
In October 2013, Geddert became angry and took one of the girls into the locker room, where he stomped on her toes, grabbed her arm and threw her into a wall. He denied this after the incident was reported to police. Prosecutors declined to file charges; Geddert was instead ordered to complete counseling.
Athletes said Geddert knew of Nassar’s sexual abuse
Although Geddert told police he had no knowledge of Nassar’s abuse of athletes, that was contradicted by the reports of multiple girls, Frost said.
One athlete told investigators Geddert would routinely walk in during Nassar’s treatment at Twistars.
That is just one thing Geddert was accused of lying about during his interview with the Michigan State University Police Department.
Geddert told police he had never had someone tell him about Nassar’s abuse, but Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney said in an April 2018 “Dateline” NBC interview that she had told Geddert and several other gymnasts in 2011 about an incident where Nassar “went overboard.” That instance of abuse led her to realize something was wrong.
Maroney told “Dateline” that Geddert was in the car and did not react, but other gymnasts gasped.
Geddert also told police Nassar came to Twistars once a week and had a limited role in the gym. He denied that Nassar was alone in the locker room with female gymnasts.
When asked about intravaginal treatments, Geddert said he wouldn’t be privy to that information, then said, “I could limit by deductive reasoning which athletes might have had it because of the nature of their injuries, such as a hamstring strain, lower back injury or broken tailbone…”
Contact reporter Kara Berg at 517-377-1113 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @karaberg95.