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Owner of popular Twistars Gymnastics Club faces abuse allegations

LANSING, MI (WLNS) - Several women who were abused by Larry Nassar confronted him in a packed courtroom Tuesday at his first sentencing hearing. More than 90 women and girls are expected to make victim-impact statements this week.  It could last up to four days.

The former MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor faces a minimum of 25 to 40 years in prison and a maximum sentence of up to life in prison after he pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting seven girls in Ingham County. He also pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting three in Eaton County.

But it wasn't all about Larry Nassar in court Tuesday.

Many of his victims told the court about the people and institutions they say at best, failed to protect them and at worst, helped cover things up.

More than 140 women and girls are alleging in a civil lawsuit  that Twistars Gymnastics Club, it's owner John Geddert, MSU, and USA Gymnastics failed to protect them from Nassar's sexual abuse.

One woman who spoke in court Tuesday about the alleged abuse did so anonymously but took the court down memory lane as she described how she came to know Nassar and Geddert as a gymnast in the 1990's.

6 News is not naming her because the station does not identify victims of sexual assault without their consent.

"Those early years in the gym were brutal," she said. "As I know you must remember. John was young and pushed all boundaries."

"He [Geddert] was boss, the enforcer, the screamer, the thrower, the perfectionist, the one from whom we desperately sought approval, or even just some small sign that he actually cared for us and not just for winning," she said.

Geddert  is a big name in the gymnastics community for many reasons, among them, for having served as the head coach of the USA Gymnastics team during the 2012 Olympics. He led the "Fierce Five" - as they became known - to the team gold medal.

However, more recently  Geddert's name has been in the headlines for his involvement with  MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry  Nassar.  Nassar  treated patients at  Twistars  for more than two decades.

But the former gymnast who spoke out in court Tuesday is  not the only one who says  Geddert  created an abusive environment for young gymnasts.

Lindsey Lemke is among many women and girls who started training at Twistars when she was 7-years-old. She's currently a senior at Michigan State University. She competes on the university's gymnastics team.

"When I was younger, I thought I was lucky to be coached by Geddert," she said. "He was very well known and without a doubt had the best gymnastics club in Michigan."

While she is no longer at Twistars, she detailed a number of incidents that happened while she was there.

"While a gymnast would be in the spotting belt over a set of uneven bars, they would often get dropped from mid air, 15 feet up, if they made a mistake," Lemke said. "Geddert would let go of the ropes that controlled the belt and therefore the gymnast."

Lemke also said there were other times when an athlete would make a mistake on the balance beam and Geddert would walk up to her and push her off it.

"He would take girls by the shoulders, squeeze hard enough to leave marks, shake them and yell directly into their face," she said. "There was specifically one time where he picked up the vault hand mat and hit me with it because I couldn't get my vault right that day and this was already after I had crashed into the vault hard enough to bruise and bleed."

Lemke recalled one other incident while at a meet in California.

"My teammate had torn her achilles during a competition routine," she said. "When she got up and limped over to Geddert afterwards, he told her she was being a f****** baby and chucked a bag of ice at her head."

Lemke also said that sometimes  Geddert  threw things at gymnasts during practice, including water bottles, blocks and pens.

Lemke also said  Geddert would tell girls straight to their face that they were fat, "some who weighed only 100 - 110 pounds," she added.

Lemke was in 7th  grade when she said she broke her foot doing a 2½ while doing a floor exercise.

"It was the week of regionals and I was terrified to tell John how much pain I was in," she said. "I had heard my foot snap so I knew it more serious than a small tweak. Instead of evaluating and helping me, I was told, 'if you're going to be that much of a wimp, then get out and go to the hospital.'"

Lemke said the x-rays came back and the side of her left foot had a crack down the side of it.

"I came in the next day and he yelled at me saying, 'Because of your lack of focus, I don't have an athlete in the Junior A division for regionals and nationals now.'"

Lemke said because she was so young, she didn't realize what was happening to her  was wrong.

"There was no age limit at which this type of behavior began," she said. "Some were five and it went all the way up until we were 18. We weren't allowed to be tired, we weren't allowed to have bad day. If you were sick, you worked out anyways. When you messed up or you were injured, it was all about his reputation."

"Your sickness, injury, pain, mental struggles, meant nothing to him. If you weren't performing to his standards, you had consequences. He had no heart, he was selfish and if you weren't winning the competitions to bring money to his name, you didn't matter."

Christy Lemke, Lindsey's mother, said  Geddert  is "known" for the physical and emotional stress he puts on athletes he trains.

One woman, who talked to 6 News under the condition that she remains anonymous because she's a sexual assault victim, said  Geddert  mandated that all gymnasts at  Twistars  see  Nassar  only for medical treatment. If they sought treatment from another doctor, she said  Geddert  would not accept the doctor's note.

Just last week, Geddert  filed a motion to dismiss the accusations against him in the civil suit, saying he is not culpable and that the statute of limitations has expired, so therefore he had no obligation to report alleged sexual abuse.

One woman, who spoke to 6 News anonymous because she is a victim of sexual assault, was a gymnast at  Twistars  Gymnastics Club on and off for roughly eight years. She said she was 12-years-old when Geddert began coaching her.

"It has always made me sick and hurt that he had gotten away with so much," she said.

"There were good times that John helped me out but when his temper was bad, it was bad."

"I was dropped from about 15 feet in the air in a spotting belt because I didn't make the corrections he [Geddert] wanted me to make, landing on my back on a thin mat," she said. "I was shoved off the beam when he was mad or pushed, and numerous pieces of mats, water bottles, and ice thrown at me when he was mad."

The woman added that during what's called "two-a-days"  Geddert  would make the gymnasts stretch between two mats.

"He forced me to go all the way down...and  pulling my hamstring," she said. "Even though we cried and asked for him to stop, he wouldn't."

Another former Twistars gymnast who talked to 6 News under the condition she would remain  anonymous because she's a victim of sexual assault,  said MSU and  Twistars  should be held accountable for the years of abuse by  Nassar.

"Larry  Nassar  abused me and I want to see all those who gave him access to me and did not properly protect me, to take accountability and some responsibility for this," she said.  "I'm angry and I'm hurt. None of this is remotely okay and it affects one mentally in more ways than someone on the outside can even imagine."

"Currently MSU and  Twistars  are trying to get out of this untouched and speaking for myself and my teammates we can't see this happen. This is not fair they are to blame."

The grandmother of a gymnast, who spoke to 6 News under the condition that she would remain anonymous, due to fear of retaliation, said that while Twistars offers "high quality" training, the atmosphere isn't always positive, adding that there's a lot of bullying.

"He's [Geddert] a high quality coach, but when he's not happy with your performance, he's mean and a bully. I believe in many cases, the girls comply due to fear," she said. "I'm not saying that's true of all of them, but the ones he does that to, are at his mercy. I believe he requires their "submission" to him. They will obey. I think he likes that power."

These allegations against  Geddert  prompted 6 News to dig deeper into the gymnasts' accounts.

Through the course of our investigation, we discovered that the  Twistars  owner has been investigated by law enforcement for assault and battery.

Police reports obtained by 6 News  show that  Geddert  was subject to a criminal investigation in  2013. In that case, the Eaton County  Prosecutor's Office said there was enough evidence to charge Geddert, but allowed him to seek counseling instead.

Eaton County Prosecutor  Doug Lloyd told 6 News that a "determination was made to resolve the case short of a plea."

The report said that if  Geddert  did not complete counseling, it would issue charges.

According to the report, two months later, Geddert  completed counseling.  It is not clear what kind of counseling he was in or how long it lasted.

"I was disappointed of course, but not surprised," the grandmother of the gymnast said. "That is why rarely, if ever, anyone stands up to him. He gets away with it time and time again. If a parent wants their daughter to be successful in the sport you don't cross him."

6 News has reached out to Geddert  multiple times for comment on this story. Through a public relations spokeswoman, the  Twistars  owner declined to comment, citing the fact that he was never officially charged.

Police aren't the only ones who have looked into Geddert's behavior.

In December 2013, a former employee of  Twistars  Gymnastics Club sent a seven-page letter to USA Gymnastics at the attention of President and CEO Steve Penny.  Her name has been redacted.

The letter, dated December 4,  2013,  accuses Geddert of maintaining a "hostile" and "unprofessional environment."

It claims he would "scream at," "belittle," and "punish gymnasts so badly, one of them tried to take her own life."

The letter lists a number of specific dates and details incidents that allegedly occurred while the former employee worked at Twistars. She describes a hostile environment not only for the workers, but  the gymnasts as well.

The employee also said in the letter that Geddert  refused to pay her everything she was owed once she stopped working there.

USAG Spokeswoman Leslie King said, "We acknowledge receiving the referenced letter and confirm that it was investigated and addressed through the member misconduct process as outlined in the organizations bylaws."

When asked what Geddert was being investigated for and how USAG "addressed"  the issue, King said USAG does not comment publicly on member misconduct issues, "unless the action taken involves a public result."

King declined to comment any further on the action taken against Geddert and the reason for it.

USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny resigned in March 2017 amid sex abuse allegations surrounding Nassar and how USA Gymnastics handled complaints.

6 News has been covering the Larry Nassar investigation and looking into the organizations named in the civil lawsuit since this story broke.

In a sentencing memorandum filed last week, the Michigan Attorney General's office asked the judge to sentence the former MSU doctor to 40 to 125 years in prison.

The former doctor's sentencing hearing in Eaton County begins on January 31.

He has already been sentenced to 60 years on three counts of federal child pornography charges.


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